Open Year-Round. This museum is larger than it appears from the outside and features galleries highlighting Johnson County’s unique history.
Jim Gatchell was a historian, a visionary – apart from
being a pharmacist – and his dedication to Johnson County has helped preserve
the heritage and culture of the region. Theodore
James “Jim” Gatchell (1872-1954) opened a drugstore in May of 1900 in
downtown Buffalo, an establishment that became a regional landmark for more
than 80 years. Through his profession, he became acquainted with many of the notorious
and colorful characters from the Bighorn Mountains/Powder River Basin frontier.?
These characters shared with Gatchell their firsthand experiences
from the Indian wars, the development of cattle ranches, and the pioneer
settlement of the region. Gatchell also developed a special and endearing relationship
with the Plains Indians of Northeastern Wyoming. Having grown up on a Lakota
Reservation, he was fluent in both the Lakota spoken and sign language. The
Northern Cheyenne regarded him as a friend and ?Medicine Man.? In appreciation,
they often brought him rare gifts – some of which were their prized possessions.
The Cheyenne gave him the name of ?Turpy? which means ?He who speaks for them?
along with a Springfield rifle bestowed to him by Shave Head, a Cheyenne
?Based on the relationships Gatchell cultivated on all sides
of the battling frontier, he came to amass a collection of artifacts in the
store room of his drug store, forming the earliest beginnings of the Jim
Gatchell Memorial Museum. His family presented his extensive collection to Johnson County
after he passed away. In appreciation to both Gatchell and his legacy, Johnson
County residents raised over $60,000 for the construction of a museum which
opened in 1957. The museum expanded into the old Carnegie Library in 1987 and
the museum complex is located next to the historic Johnson County Courthouse.
?The Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum collection contains more than 26,000 artifacts including a
sheep wagon representative of Johnson County’s Basque culture, a military
weapons display including firearms typical of standard issue from nearby Fort
Phil Kearny, a ?Big Bad? wolf display, natural history specimens of fossils,
rocks, and a wildlife display, and numerous Native American artifacts. The museum also has a great collection of
wagons and buggies in its Carriage House along with interactive exhibits
featuring the Bozeman Trail, 1943 Bomber Mountain crash site, and the Johnson
County Cattle War, among others. Many of these artifacts are on exhibit in the
museum?s 15,000 square feet of gallery space, which spans across three interconnected
buildings. The museum also hosts a homestead cabin built by M.D. and Sylvia
Jenkins in southern Johnson County in 1916. The cabin was moved to northern Johnson County for use as a guest home
before becoming a part of the museum complex in 2006. Made of timber cut from the Bighorn
Mountains, it features two rooms and a real floor.
One of ?Wyoming?s Most Significant Artifacts? on
display is a bugle that has been flattened, due to the trampling of horses and cattle
in the years following the Fetterman Fight. It was over 150 years ago ? on December
21, 1866 ? when Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho attacked Captain Fetterman and 80
men drawn out from the protective walls of Fort Phil Kearny. At the time, it
was the worst defeat suffered by the U.S. Army in the Indian Wars. Legend has
it that bugler Adolph Metzger bravely fought off his attackers with nothing but
his bugle. When the dust settled, it is said that Metzger?s body was the only
one left intact and covered with a bison hide ? a show of respect from the
?In 2002, the museum gained national accreditation from
the American Association of Museums – making it one of six accredited museums
in Wyoming. Indeed, of the 8,500 museums operating currently in the United
States, only about 750 are accredited. The museum?s collection, exhibits,
hands-on activities and programs depict the history and culture of Native
Americans, cattlemen and settlers of Northeastern Wyoming. The museum store features
an outstanding selection of history and children?s books, jewelry, and other
fine gifts. Many of the items found in
the store are handcrafted by local artisans.
?The museum presents a variety of programs and 2017
will see a series about wildfire with events such as a program about the
history of area fires, a field trip to a past fire site with ecologic
interpretation, presentations about firefighting science and equipment, and
youth programs about fire safety. June
will also feature the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum?s annual Living History Day-
a community day with free museum admission and numerous living history
activities on the museum grounds.?