BILLINGS – In 1959, at age 65, Mickey Wight snowshoed 12 miles out from her Needle Creek mining camp to ensure searchers didn’t come to her aid.
The Cody, Wyoming, radio station had been broadcasting to Wight, letting her know help was on the way. She had no phone. Normally, she would have left before heavy snowfall, but she – along with others in the backcountry – were trapped by the mid-November storm.
While a Cody doctor had to be evacuated by airplane from the Sunlight Basin, Wight simply walked out.
“I thought I’d better come out and meet the crews being sent to rescue me,” she was quoted saying in an Associated Press story.
The plucky Wight is one of several people through which the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is telling the story of Yellowstone National Park as it celebrates its 150th anniversary. The exhibit, “Yellowstone: For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People,” opens at noon on May 19 in Cody and will stay up through Jan. 29.
“We’re looking at the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem through the eyes of different cultural groups,” said Jeremy Johnston, exhibit curator.
The display starts with Indigenous people and works its way through early explorers, fur traders, miners, tourists, concessionaires, the military, Park Service employees and scientists.
“It’s more a people’s history of the region,” Johnston said.
Wight’s story, however, has special meaning to Johnston.
“She sewed up my grandfather after he got attacked by a grizzly bear,” he said.
His grandfather, Jim Bever, was hunting bears with his father, Ora, when he became the hunted. After shooting two grizzlies over bait, another bear charged out of the forest and attacked.
“The bear won,” Johnston said. “My grandfather got chewed up pretty good.”
The worst of the scarring was on his grandfather’s backside because the grizzly pulled him down as he was trying to escape by climbing a tree where his father had clambered to safety.
Besides her sewing skills, Wight was known as a pleasant hostess and great baker of pies – especially lemon meringue – as hunters, horse packers and dudes trekked past her place on the way up the South Fork Shoshone River on their way to Yellowstone’s famed Thorofare Valley.
The exhibit at the center only used objects from its five museums, which includes the Buffalo Bill, Plains Indian, Cody Firearms, Draper Natural History and Whitney Western Art museums. Artifacts include two stagecoaches and a Ford Model T Depot Hack that hauled passengers and their luggage from the train station. Smaller items include a McClellan saddle, like those used by the U.S. Army when they patrolled the park, to Indigenous tools and examples of the minerals miners excavated.
“It really was an interdisciplinary approach,” Johnston said. “Every museum contributed. It was great teamwork by the center.”
Another character featured in the exhibit whose story resonated with Johnston is that of cowboy turned forest ranger John K. Rollinson.
“You don’t usually put those two together,” he said. “His work in the national forest is quite interesting.”
Rollinson captured scenes from his life in the book “Pony Trails in Wyoming” where he recounted working as a “ranch hand, trapper, bone-gatherer, roundup helper, top cowhand, freighter, forest ranger, guide and ranchman,” according to a 1941 Casper Star Tribune story. His varied life began after he ran away from his rural New York home in 1890 at age 15, reportedly inspired by Buffalo Bill.
The center’s website noted the exhibition “considers the natural evolution of the Yellowstone Ecosystem as a place and culturally as an idea. The unique landscape, shaped by the geological processes of the last 150 million years, serving as a land of convergence for more than 15,000 years.”
The exhibit comes on the heels of a record year for the center. That’s in part due to tourists flooding neighboring Yellowstone National Park, setting a record for visitation at 4.8 million in 2021.
“From my perspective, there were quite a few people on good, old-fashioned, family road trips,” Johnston said. “A lot of them were also looking for a way to get away from the pandemic.”
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through April 30. The cost of admission is $22 for adults, $21 for seniors, $20 for students, $15 for ages 6 to 17 and free for children 5 and younger.