In the end, he had a common desire: He hoped that his legacy meant something.
Seven years before his death, William Cody stated, “If I have succeeded in bringing to the youth of America, the cowboy, the Indian, the buffalo, the covered wagon, and the Deadwood (Stage) coach, then my efforts have not been in vain.”
For many enthusiasts around the world, Cody’s accomplishments are as appreciated today as they were during his time. Many call him as a legend. He is most fondly remembered in Le Claire as one of its most famous sons: Buffalo Bill.
A place that has fostered a sense of wonder about Bill since 1957 is Le Claire’s Buffalo Bill Museum. What began through the dedication of the Le Claire Women’s Club (now defunct) in a small storefront is now a multifaceted structure that welcomes visitors from around the world.
Best small museum
First-time visitors are often overwhelmed by the multitude of artifacts, but thoroughly delighted. Museum Executive Director Bob Schiffke noted, “We get a lot of comments anywhere from this is the best small museum I’ve ever seen to how much there is to see.” It’s positive comments such as these that earned the museum a 2015 Certificate of Excellence award from tripadvisor.com
However, the museum is much more than Bill’s life story. According to Schiffke, “It really is a regional history museum.” He noted that one of the goals of the museum is to emphasize the educational opportunities for visitors.
A showman, but a true figure in Western history
Like Schiffke, Bill, too, was focused on educating his audience. Although his show was known as, “The Congress of the Rough Riders of the World,” Bill always referred to it as an “educational exhibition.” His version of the American West became the account that millions around the world believed and admired.
Part of what made Bill’s shows so successful was his array of life experiences. For example, it may be surprising to read Bill’s name in the same sentence as Medal of Honor winner, but it is true. Pony Express rider, government scout, ranch hand, wagon train driver, buffalo hunter, and fur trapper are all jobs Bill held. “We do have a considerable amount of his material from different phases in his life,” Schiffke stated.
Museum’s National Historic Landmark recalls life on the river
What is it about significant people, like Bill, and places that hold our interest?
According to Schiffke, “People are interested in history and how things were in the past. To preserve any kind of history, especially the development of this area, is important. And as the West and the country grew, to get across the (Mississippi) River, that was the big thing.”
The shifting sandbars and shallow waters of the Upper Mississippi River made this a dreaded area for many riverboat captains. But Captain Phillip Suiter knew how to deal with Ol’ Man River. The legendary steamboat pilot was part of an elite clan of Rock Island Rapids pilots who are honored in the museum.
While today’s visitors can’t ride along with these waterway heroes, they can climb aboard a majestic vessel from their time: the Lone Star Stern Wheeler.
Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the Lone Star is the only surviving wooden-hulled vessel of its kind. According to Schiffke, it brings visitors back to 1890.
Children’s activities and archival gems
After hours of fun exploration aboard the Lone Star young visitors will likely ask: What’s next?
The answer is-- lots of things!
In keeping with the educational component of the museum, there is a scavenger hunt for kids and a gift shop prize upon completion. Then they can head to the Children’s Room and let their imaginations run free trying on typical cowboy, Native American, and steamboat captain attire.
For those seeking facts to confirm what they could only imagine the museum’s Archival Library is the place to go. Available by appointment, it is filled with documents about not only Bill, but also Mississippi River and riverboat history. “We have lots of old books, records, letters from Buffalo Bill, scrapbooks from local people, the room is packed with stuff,” said Schiffke.
Cody Homestead and bison
Again this year, Le Claire earned the Quad City Times' 2015 Readers' Choice Award for Best Place to Take an Out-of-Town Guest. If you want to experience more of this honored destination then consider a short drive to the Cody Homestead. Located approximately 20 minutes from the Buffalo Bill Museum, it is the location of Bill’s boyhood residence. Although the homestead is only open April through October, visitors may come throughout the year to see the two bison that live at the homestead. An informational plaque provides details about the home. Bring your camera; the breath-taking views of the prairie from the property are worth the trip!
Like the mighty bison, Buffalo Bill Cody could not be confined. As he roared across our nation and the world his passion for adventure defined the West. A life’s work rooted on the banks of the Mississippi. Learn more. Visit Le Claire!
Find the Le Claire Buffalo Bill Museum, the Cody Homestead, and hundreds of other state historic and cultural sites on the Iowa Culture app!
Buffalo Bill Museum winter hours: Monday – Saturday: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m./ Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Summer hours (beginning April 5): Monday – Saturday 9:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. / Sunday 12:00 P.M. – 5:00 P.M. Open some holidays – call ahead
Location: 199 N. Front St., Le Claire, IA
Admission: Adults: $5, Senior $4, Youth 6-16 years $1.00, children under 6 years FREE, AAA Members $4, Active Military FREE, students touring with school trips FREE.
Hours: open daily April-Oct. 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Location: 28050 230th Ave., at Bluff Road, Scott County, IA
Telephone: (563) 225-2981
Admission: Adults $2, 16 and under FREE.
*Image source: LeClaire Buffalo Bill Museum