Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oakley, Kansas Tribute to Buffalo Bill a Major Site on Highway 83

Perched on a mound on the west side of the Highway 83 bypass in the town of Oakley, Kansas, is a bronze representation of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody setting his gunsight on a fleeing bison.
It is perhaps the most dramatic piece of art one encounters on the 1,885 miles of U.S. Highway 83.
It was May 2004 when the town of Oakley dedicated the statue commemorating the days Buffalo Bill spent hunting bison on the nearby lands to provide food for workers on the Kansas Pacific Railway.
Last year, the nonprofit that funded the project through private donations completed its vision for the spot when it opened the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center, an 8,000-square-foot conference hall adjacent to the statue that features a gift shop with local items for sale along with exhibit space.
Laurie Millensifer, the center’s administrator, says the opening of the center is the culmination of years of hard work on the part of the town’s leaders to make the site a cultural and civic center, as well as something to bring in tourists off the busy interstate.
“We host parties, weddings and receptions and we also have a giftshop, and a few rotating little displays that we are doing,” she said. The center also doubles as a Travel Information Center for the State of Kansas, so this is a great spot to pick up brochures.
“We’re on a growth path,” she added.
The center held the Kansas State Corn Husking championship in October, and will host a national championship on a rotating basis.  
Oakley also lies along the Western Vista Historic Byway, a 104-mile stretch being promoted by the state that begins (or ends depending on which way one travels), at Sharon Springs on U.S Route 40, then turns south at Oakley and continues on Highway 83 to Scott City.
All of the major towns in Kansas along Highway 83 — Oberlin, Oakley, Scott City, Garden City and Liberal — have lots to see and do for travelers, but Oakley stands alone as the community closest to I-70. Travelers who do take the time to get off that soulless, boring four-lane strip of east-west concrete, and take the back roads on 83, or west on old U.S. Route 40, will find that Oakley has a lot going on.
As for the Cody monument, Kansas-based sculptor Charlie Norton took three years to finish the work, which weighs 9,000 pounds collectively, and cost $450,000.
Turn to the east a few blocks from the statue and the Fick Fossil Museum is well worth the stop. The land south of Oakley is a paleontologist’s dreamland, and many of the specimens found in the area are here, along with the paintings of local folk artist Vi Fick, who incorporated fossils she found on her ranch into her unique paintings.
Take old business Highway 83 through the center of town where quilters will find a Mecca at the Smoky River Quilt Shoppe.
It is here where one can avoid the chains out on the interstate and stay in town at a family run motel, and eat at some of the cafes and restaurants.
Buffalo Bill went on to be a famous showman, and featured sharpshooter Annie Oakley in his revue. She had no connection to the town, but that didn’t stop the builder of the Annie Oakley Motel just north of downtown from using a pin-up girl likeness for the sign (one of my favorite motel signs along Highway 83).

Near there is the highly recommended 1st Travel Inn, which is run by the Mohrs, a family from Germany. Jen Mohr is a retired German naval aviator, who decided to raise his family on this side of the pond.
The Highway 83-Interstate 70 interchange features the unusual Free Breakfast Inn, a can’t miss sight as one drives down 83 from the north with its Roman colonnades, which owner Jeffrey Harsh salvaged from a defunct Denver shopping mall. Near there is the seasonal Prairie Dog Town roadside attraction and small antique store, which is worth the stop.
As for the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center’s future, Millensifer said Oakley sees itself as a part of a triangle for those wishing to follow in the showman’s footsteps. Travel north on Highway 83, and one will arrive at Scout’s Rest Ranch, Cody’s home in North Platte. Drive west on Highway 40, and it will eventually take travelers to Golden, Colo., where the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave is located.
“We are all about the whole experience. We want people to go there, come here, and people are doing that trip,” Millensifer said.
For more about the statue and cultural center, click HERE. For more about Oakley, check out the Discover Oakley website, Click HERE

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at

Stew Magnuson (stewmag (a) is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding: The American Indian Movement, the FBI, and their Fight to Bury the Sins of the Past published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes. Buy it in paperback on Amazon or bookstores such as Plains Trading Company Booksellers, in Valentine, Neb., on Highway 83. 

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