Last Thursday, Jesse Ventura, former professional wrestler and current governor of Minnesota, stepped off a light-rail train and marched into the 106-year-old Buckhorn Exchange, where the big, tough guy ordered...a chicken sandwich.
Buffalo Bill must have been rolling over in his grave -- which is definitely on Lookout Mountain, despite Wyoming's claim that its city of Cody is the final resting place of the Wild West's most colorful figure. Proof that Colonel William F. Cody was instrumental in creating the myth of that Wild West also resides on Lookout Mountain, where artifacts in the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum show that Cody's real trailblazing was in the field of marketing.
Born in 1846, Cody was carrying mail for the Pony Express by the time he was fourteen; at twenty, he was a seasoned Civil War veteran. In 1867 he took the job that would earn him his infamous nickname: hunting buffalo to feed employees of the Kansas Pacific Railroad.
Buffalo Bill didn't completely kill off the buffalo (not for lack of trying), as is evident from the Buckhorn's menu, which includes several preparations of the now-trendy meat. (RTD, which picked out the lunch choices for Ventura's entourage, didn't include any buffalo items -- much less the Buckhorn's trademark Rocky Mountain oysters.) But back at the turn of the twentieth century, when Cody frequented the Buckhorn -- it was owned by Henry Zeitz, a friend of his and no slouch at marketing, either -- beef was the order of the day. Railroad workers would ride into town, get off the train and come straight to the Buckhorn -- not unlike Jesse Ventura -- where they'd sit down to steak and a beer (unlike Jesse Ventura). Teddy Roosevelt would drop by on his Western hunting trips, or in the midst of a presidential whistlestop, to sit and shoot the breeze with Cody and Zeitz.
"Buffalo Bill was a regular at the Buckhorn, drinking his signature bourbon-and-apple-juice cocktail, which is still on the menu today," says Bill Dutton, Buckhorn general manager. "He was a party animal, so we make sure his birthday is the biggest party in town each year."
To that end, the restaurant will host a daylong Old West Rendezvous on Saturday, February 26 -- Cody's actual birthday -- complete with the 21st annual Buffalo Bill lookalike contest, a kids' carnival and Western costume contest, an outdoor trading post, Old West music, and plenty of unscripted raucousness. (Last year's party included the wedding of two people who'd met at the previous year's celebration.)
You can enjoy more flavors of the era on Sunday, February 27, when the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum continues the celebration. While the kids enjoy cake and ice cream, adults can sneak a peak at the exhibits that document Cody's career. Those displays are a bit more dignified than the 500-odd (some very odd) items in the Buckhorn's taxidermy collection, which includes a billy club made out of an elk penis that Zeitz used to brandish behind his bar.
Ventura didn't pay much attention to the club. But he was impressed with the two-headed calf, found frozen in Colorado back in 1934 and subsequently stuffed and mounted at the restaurant. He was also impressed with the pot-roast sandwich that one member of his entourage had ordered -- and switched with his chicken sandwich.
Now of that, Buffalo Bill would approve.