“I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life, there are some that matter most. It is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on this trail and it is good to see.” ~ Kicking Bird from Dances with Wolves
Tuesday, driving west on Highway 90 toward the Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and The Badlands, I stumbled upon a town. No, not another Prairie Dog town but something more interesting. This was a replica of a town from the 1880’s. The completed town is a replica but the buildings themselves are actual buildings from the 1880’s to 1920’s. The creators of this town scoured the South Dakota landscape to find still existing buildings from that era and then moved them all to this central location to create an amazing timepiece of history.
This 1880 Town, 22 miles west of Murdo, in East Jackson, South Dakota, has over thirty original buildings furnished with thousands of unique artifacts from the same era. I hesitated going in, wondering if it was worth my time and the twelve dollar entrance fee. It certainly was! I was eager to get a good campsite in The Badlands that evening and so took myself on a self-guided, expedited tour but, still, I stayed for three or four hours; a real history buff could stay for three or four days as each building in this 1880 Town is its own little museum full of historical artifacts to roam through and comb through.
The 1990 Academy Award-winner for Best Picture, Dances With Wolves
, was filmed in the surrounding towns and grasslands. Many props from the movie are here in 1880 Town including the two Prairie Wagons that Lt. Dunbar and Timmons drove out to Fort Sedgewick, a teepee, medical tent, fake buffalo, along with many behind-the-scenes photographs and paraphernalia.
Cisco, Lt. Dunbar’s beloved horse, lived here with many of the other animals in town after the filming of the movie and remained here until his death a few years ago; he is still here, in a preserved state, in the museum, along with Two Socks, the wolf from the movie.
From a distance I was taking pictures of this Prairie Wagon sitting beneath its canopy with its two horses and driver, which along with the windmill, stood silently in the Tuesday afternoon heat. As I approached I admired the colors of the wagon, the realism of the simulated horses and the mannequin sitting in the seat.
Moving closer, a horse wiggled his ears, the other horse shook his head, shooing a fly. They were real! Then I felt bad for these horses, here in the hot sun, unable to move, having to stand here in the dust and heat, used only as a prop for this wagon and then…the mannequin moved!
As it turns out, it wasn’t a mannequin, it was a “dummy”, or at least that’s what he said he was. His name was Bill and he was there to give free rides around the town in the wagon. I thought he and the horses were fake! Perhaps I’m the dummy…? As it turns out, Bill was a very interesting person with infinite stories about his life as a cowboy, truck driver and movie stuntman. We chatted for about an hour before he had to go to his next gig.
Bill is also an entertainer! He and another cowpoke provide a rousing musical-comedy show every hour in the town’s Longhorn Saloon. The instrument you see him playing is simply a broomstick, a metal wash basin and a cord from a set of window blinds, all fashioned together to provide a bass sound for their two-man band. They played a number of sing-a-long songs and told jokes in between for twenty minutes or so. The saloon’s beverage of choice was sarsaparilla.
After the show Bill was back outside giving free wagon rides to the visitors while his pard’ner was doin’ what he does best.
More of the town…
The town borders a Longhorn Cattle ranch.
What doesn’t belong in these pictures…?
…and they had trains. In fact, after you’re done mozy’in’ around the town you can have breakfast or lunch in a 1950’s railroad dining car that is out in the museum’s parking lot until 2 p.m. I had a burger and homemade Chicken Noodle Soup made from “grandma’s” recipe — both were delicious.
This 1880 Town is open from May until October, from sunrise to sunset.
I hope when you see a rainbow you realize it was worth the rain.
The gam continues…