“Journeying West: Distinctive Firearms from the Smithsonian” will be on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center for three years.
The exhibit, which opens May 4 in the lower gallery of the Cody Firearms Museum, will feature 64 firearms from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“This is an opportunity for people in Cody to see, study and enjoy these historically significant firearms without traveling to Washington D.C.,” Curator Warren Newman said.
“That’s why we think of it as ‘journeying west,’ “ he adds. “We worked on this with the Smithsonian for a long time and are delighted to see it taking shape.”
The rare opportunity to have such a display on loan for three years adds substance to the BBHC’s affiliation with the Smithsonian, Newman added.
“There are many affiliate museums out there, but this really makes the title meaningful,” he said.
In fall 2015 the BBHC will have an option to renew the exhibit or obtain a new selection of pieces.
The exhibit takes pieces from the National Firearms Collection created in 1876 in honor of America’s Centennial.
The pieces on display are in three categories: American patent models, designated “national treasures” or imaginative international firearms.
“The central icon of the exhibit is the patent model of the Gatling gun,” Newman says. “It’s a wooden, miniature prototype that, once approved, allowed for the production of full-scale Gatlings.”
The western cinematic favorite was invented by Richard Gatling and patented in 1862. Full scale Gatling guns can be seen throughout the CFM.
Four designated “national treasures” also are sure to receive attention.
The first, a seven-foot-long gold Miquelet lock musket, was given to President Thomas Jefferson in 1805 by the Bey of Tunisia after the Tripolitan Wars.
The second is a gold embellished Jaeger rifle once belonging to Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-96).
“What’s interesting about it is that it has a velvet cheek piece,” Newman adds. “The thinking was a royal face couldn’t risk any damage.”
A third treasure is a distinctive pepperbox pistol that belonged to Gen. George McClellan of the Union Army in the Civil War.
The final special piece “is like a Swiss Army knife, but it’s enormous,” Newman said. “There are 50 blades on each side. It’s included because one blade that pops out is a miniature pistol. It’s an amazing piece.”
There also will be a variety of international firearm models that showcase the imagination used in gun making by other countries, Newman said.
He says these categories work together to tell the story of firearm invention to production, and then the role of firearms in U.S. and global history.
(Heidi Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)