Museum Minute: Curators Don't Always Know Everything

Apr 13, 2020

A Brown Bess Musket
Credit Cody Firearms Museum

Museum curators are expected to have an in-depth knowledge of everything in the collections. 

“We try to put on a very good appearance of that when we give tours,” said Danny Michael, the assistant curator of the Cody Firearms Museum. “But it's not always the case.”

Michael said there’s a Brown Bess Musket in the Cody Firearms Collection that really exemplifies how curators are always learning. The musket has been in the museum for a long time. In fact, it was even part of the Whitney Western Art studio exhibit on the artist Fredrick Remington for a while. Michael said a year or so ago, the museum hosted a firearms museum symposium. 

“One of the folks that was here actually authored the book on Brown Bess Muskets and as he walked through the galleries, he saw this gun and asked us if he could take a look at it,” said Michael. 

When he looked at the Cody Firearms Musket, he noticed tiny details that actually pointed to the history of the gun. 

“He recognized the features of a gun from the Napoleonic War periods. To an untrained eye, most brown bess muskets look alike. But if you know what to look for, there's quite a few feature differences,” said Michael. “And he noticed this one that was from the Napoleonic Wars, and marked it as a unit that was present at the Battle of Waterloo.”

The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most significant battles in western history, said Michael. It was fought on June 18, 1815 between Napoleon's French Army and a coalition led by the Duke of Wellington and Marshal Blucher. It concluded a 23 yearlong war when England and its allies defeated Napoleon. 

“It was a really interesting look into how sometimes we find out interesting stories that we didn't know about from items in our own collection,” said Michael.