The Real America has its own unique history, combining the heroic and tragic aspects of the opening of the American West, the epic movement of pioneers from east to west across a continent, the displacement of a native population, and a culture that comes from a sparse and independent populace living in vast and varied terrain. Visit museums and interpretive centres to take a hands-on educational journey into Old West history and Native American Culture.
North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum
The North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum is a 97,000-square-foot, $52 million facility that tells the history of North Dakota. New galleries take guests through state history from the present all the way back to the Ice Age. Enjoy performances in the new digital Great Plains Theatre and eat lunch at the James River Cafe.
Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, celebrates the spirit of the American West by weaving together the stories of the western experience—history and myth, art and Native culture, firearms technology and natural history—into the rich tapestry that is the West. Make your trip complete with a stop at the Center.
Named for William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the man who “took the West to the world,” the Center reveals these stories of the past and present. Learn all about Buffalo Bill, his Wild West show, and the West he knew and loved. Follow his life from frontiersman to actor, showman to entrepreneur, and real man to the legend he became.
Yes, the West, with its rich history, fascinating natural environment, and diverse cultural heritage, comes alive at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.
Museum of the Rockies
The Museum of the Rockies, a world-class museum located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in Bozeman, Montana, is just 90 minutes from Yellowstone National Park. As a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate and a Federal Repository for fossils, the Museum features one of the largest and most important collections of dinosaur fossils in the world, which is based on the work of world-renowned palaeontologist and advisor to the Jurassic Park films, Jack Horner. Visitors learn about startling new discoveries in dinosaur research, experience pioneer life at the Living History Farm, explore the greater Yellowstone region’s American Indian heritage, and view the night sky as never before in the Museum’s Taylor Planetarium.
Tatanka: Story of the Bison
Native American Interpretive Center & Story of the Bison. Journey through an authentic Lakota Encampment with Native American Interpreters on-site giving presentations throughout the day. Also, see 14 larger-than-life bronze sculptures of bison being pursued by Native American riders.
Museum of the Mountain Man
The Museum presents a visual and interpretative experience into the romantic era of the Mountain man and provides a comprehensive overview of the Western Fur Trade’s historical significance. Situated in the heart of the country that was once the hub of the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous system (six of the rendezvous of the early 1800s were held in the Green River Valley near present day Pinedale, Wyoming), the Museum stands as a monument to the men and the commerce that opened the West.
C.M. Russell Museum
Established in 1953, the C.M. Russell Museum owns the most complete collection of Charles Russell art and personal objects in the world. The permanent collection is comprised of over 12,000 art works and objects. View one of the nation’s finest collections of Western art and history in spacious, modern surroundings.
Also referred to as Register Cliff and Sand Point Station. The cliff is sandstone precipice rising one hundred feet from the valley floor of the North Platte River. Despite erosion by wind and water it remains very much as travellers on the Oregon Trail saw it more than 100 years ago. One of three main sites along the Oregon Trail where emigrants left inscriptions, Register Cliff is the closet to civilization.
Only one night away from the safety of Fort Laramie, emigrants camped here along the banks of the North Platte River and etched their names into the soft sandstone cliff. Many of the inscriptions were made during the peak years of travel on the trail in the 1840s and 1850s. Even earlier, however, as far back as 1829, trappers and traders passing through carved their names into the rock. A small trading post was located near the cliff. In 1861, it was turned into a Pony Express stop, and later a stage station. A walkway and informative sign at the base of the cliff enable the visitor to learn more about this historic site.
During the mass overland emigration by covered wagon that began in 1841, the mountain man’s pathway along the North Platte and Sweetwater rivers to South Pass would be known by many names. The pioneers of the 1840s entered “Oregon Country” when they crossed the Continental Divide at South Pass and, thus, the name Oregon Trail was the most common and correct.
In Wyoming, the stretch of the trail from Fort Laramie to South Pass is significant because it is where all the major emigrant trails come together to follow the same route. There are a number of trails leading into Fort Laramie and a number branch off from South Pass, but on this 250 mile stretch everyone “went westering” together.
Fort Casper Museum
Tour a reconstructed 1865 military post located at a major river crossing on the Oregon, Mormon Pioneer, California, Pony Express, and transcontinental telegraph trail corridor. Explore central Wyoming’s regional history museum, featuring exhibits on prehistoric peoples, Plains Indians, ranching, the energy industry, and the City of Casper as well as the western emigrant trails and frontier army.
Big Hole National Battlefield
Big Hole National Battlefield is a memorial to the people who fought and died here on August 9 and 10, 1877. About 750 non-treaty Nez Perce were fleeing from US Army troops charged with enforcing the US government’s demands that all Nez Perce move to a reservation a fraction the size of their traditional homeland. In doing so, the Army was enforcing a national policy of placing all American Indians on reservations to make way for States. Here, just before day break on August 9, 1877, military forces attacked the non-treaty Nez Perce as they rested after six weeks of conflicts and flight from military forces.
Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site
Listed on the National Register, visitors can tour the restored prison where famous outlaw Butch Cassidy spent 18 months, the furnished Warden’s House, and interactive Broom Factory. Come and be captivated by this dog- and family-friendly attraction.
An exhibit hall features rotating displays and a family friendly scavenger hunt.
Self-guided tours available in English, French, German, Spanish and Japanese. Guided tours are also available for school and educational groups with reservations. Stops along the tour include the restored warden’s house, prison cells, dining area, guard’s quarters, infirmary, women’s quarters, laundry room, warden’ s office and working broom factory.
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site was established as a National Park Service (NPS) site in 1974. This is the only NPS site that preserves and protects the Northern Plains Indian Heritage. American Indians occupied this area for more than 11,000 years. There are the remains of three Hidatsa village sites within the park boundaries. The Big Hidatsa site has 110 depressions, the Sakakawea (Awatixa) site has 60 depressions and the Lower Hidatsa site has 40 depressions. This was once a thriving civilization situated along the Knife River. Sakakawea lived at the Awatixa site when she met Lewis and Clark at Fort Mandan. A state-of-the-art museum dedicated to preserving the culture of the Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara tribes is located at the visitor centre. A 15-minute video about village life can be viewed in the visitor centre theatre. A full-scale reconstructions of a Hidatsa earthlodge features authentic furnishings. Programs in the earthlodge are conducted during the summer months.
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site was the largest fur trading post on the upper Missouri River from 1828-1867. Trading headquarters with American Indians. Reconstructed Bourgeois House contains museum exhibits. Replica trade goods are available for purchase in the reconstructed Indian Trade House. Between 1828 and 1867, Fort Union was the most important fur trade post on the Upper Missouri River. Here, the Assiniboine and six other Northern Plains Indian Tribes exchanged buffalo robes and smaller furs for goods from around the world, including cloth, guns, blankets, and beads. A bastion of peaceful coexistence, the post annually traded over 25,000 buffalo robes and $100,000 in merchandise.
Fort Sisseton Historic State Park
The history of Fort Sisseton stretches back more than 130 years, when a series of forts were established in eastern Dakota Territory under the direction of Maj. Gen. John Pope. While in operation, the soldiers stationed at the fort ensured safe passage for settlers, surveyors and others into the Dakota Territory. In 1959, the fort was designated a State Historical Park. This 1864 frontier army outpost has 14 of the original buildings still intact.
Today, the park offers camping, cabins and special events such as the Fort Sisseton Historical Festival. Held annually, the festival features black powder shooting, a flag raising ceremony, cavalry and infantry drills, a grand march and several demonstrations.
National Historic Trails Interpretive Center
Experience history, don’t just read about it. Thousands of people travelled the Oregon, Mormon, California and Pony Express trails in the 1800s, etching their stories in American history. These tales are told through the facility’s seven interactive exhibit areas and 18-minute multimedia presentation. The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center is public-private partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, the National Historic Trails Center Foundation and the City of Casper.
Take a journey through time at this unique museum with many interactive displays, including geology, dinosaurs, Lakota culture and pioneer history of the Black Hills.
National Museum of Wildlife Art
Nature Speaking. With an internationally acclaimed collection of over 5,000 catalogued items, the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, serves to enrich and inspire public appreciation of fine art, wildlife, and humanity’s relationship with nature. The stunning building overlooks the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge and is en route to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. There is a seamless connection between the Museum, its mission, subject matter, and wilderness location. The Greater Yellowstone Region is one of the few remaining areas of the United States where native wildlife still roams abundantly and free.