I recently had the great pleasure of spending a day touring the five first-rate museums that make up the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Formerly the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the recently expanded center is home to the Cody Firearms Museum, The Plains Indian Museum, The Draper Natural History Museum, the Whitney Western Art Museum and, my favorite, the Buffalo Bill Museum, which tells the story of the American West through both the private life of William F. Cody and his public life as the showman who created the pageant known as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
One of the great treats during my day at the museum with a few other journalists was going on a private tour with the curator of each museum and having a chance to see the back rooms.
And – lo and behold – when we went behind the scenes at the Buffalo Bill Museum with John Rumm, senior curator of American History and the curator of the museum, he showed us a box that contained Amelia Earhart’s leather flight jacket. This is the jacket Earhart is seen wearing in a lot of photographs from the 1920s and 30s and which she likely wore on her historic flight across the Atlantic.
What’s that jacket doing in the collection of the Buffalo Bill Museum?
According to Rumm, Earhart and her husband, George Palmer Putnam, had bought property in Wyoming around 1934 from a friend of theirs, Carl Dunrud, and asked him to begin building a cabin on the site.
Then, in 1937, before heading out for that ill-fated attempt to circumnavigate the world, Earhart began sending Dunrud some of her personal possessions for safekeeping. Included among those items was the flight jacket and a buffalo coat from the 1870s (below) given to her by the Western movie star William S. Hart.
Rumm says for many years the buffalo coat was displayed and identified as having belonged to Buffalo Bill. But when Rumm took a close look at the records, he cleared up that mistake.