Museum Minute: How One Object Can Tell A Bigger Story

May 22, 2019

Railroad Jack circa 1830.
Credit Gift of Franklin L. Farnsworth

What can a railroad jack tell us? (A railroad jack is a tool used to change out tires) Well, for the story of Buffalo Bill Cody it depicts a time period that we don’t know as much about compared to his later years. That’s according to Jeremy Johnston, the curator of the Buffalo Bill Museum.

“This object really reflects Buffalo Bill’s life after his father passed away,” said Johnston. “He was the oldest son in the family and he had a number of sisters and a mother to take care of so he began working as a messenger boy.”

Johnston said as a messenger boy, Buffalo Bill spent a lot of time on freighting trains that were bringing goods across the plains to the settlements. He said it was really his first adventures out towards the west and the Rocky Mountains, and the jack can paint a picture of Buffalo Bill’s early life.

“You can imagine these wagon’s tires would fall off and break so jacks were very important,” said Johnston. “And you can imagine a young Buffalo Bill helping the freighters trying to lift these heavy loads to change out a tire using these primitive jacks.”