Here's an overview of the contents of the museum’s main locations.
The gateway to the museum features an introduction to many of the core themes found throughout the buildings, including Native American artifacts, tools of the cowboy and ranching trades, numerous local brands, traditional clothes, and other items relating to local history. Of course, one of the most striking displays in the entire museum can be found in the Front Building - the Wardell Buffalo Trap exhibit, featuring a wide range of tools, bone fragments, and other artifacts recovered from the site nearly three decades ago. The corresponding oil painting, created by local artists, is truly a layered, dynamic, and detailed representation of the events that took place a matter of mere miles from Big Piney, separated by time if not by distance.
On your way past the front room, you’ll come across a jail cell, complete with a disillusioned inmate. What is now the front building of the museum was once the local jail - a small, single-celled outfit frequented mostly by drunks and other ruffians. In the late 40s, a fire, initiated by an oil lantern, broke out in the jail, and soon the entire building was engulfed. When the flames wicked out and the smoke cleared, all that was left standing was the lonely jail cell. No one was injured in the blaze, but since the town had no other option, the cell persisted as the local criminal repository until a more suitable location was made available. When the building was eventually rebuilt, it was constructed around the existing jail cell. Today, the floor of the cell is bowed upward, likely a lasting impression of the heat it was subjected to over seventy years ago.
Model t room
In the back of the Front Building is a room possessed of an industrial feel: the entrance to a coal mine sits in one corner, adjacent to a cabinet full of cameras and typewriters and across from the room’s namesake: a 1924 Ford Model T, which appears to have rolled off the assembly line only recently. Also featured in this building is a buggy - an interesting contrast to the relatively modern Model T - and the Big Piney Examiner exhibit, which consists of printing presses, printing materials, and a stack of antique newspapers, laminated and ready to be read. The room is rounded out with a set of home radios and a long editorial desk.
Stepping out of the Model T Room leads you onto the boardwalk that traces the Cabin Yard. The Yard is composed of five buildings: the Black Homestead Cabin, the Big Piney Library, the Halfway, WY Post Office, the Price/Sommers Schoolhouse, and the Burnham Building.
The Black Homestead Cabin was originally built on Sikes Place, which now is a ranch operated by Robert Thompson. It was moved twice before being dismantled; the logs were numbered, and then the structure was rebuilt log by log. The floor and roof aren’t original but have been designed to represent a homestead cabin of the early 20th century.
The Big Piney Library was originally Jake Schmidt’s saddle shop. After that, it was the first Soil Conservation Office - then it was Paul Scherbel’s office before finally being used as the local library.
The Halfway Post Office was operational from 1903 to 1948, serving the Cottonwood area until the post office was closed and the mail was taken to Big Piney. In those 45 years, the post office was moved eight times and had nine postmasters.
The Price/Sommers schoolhouse was known as the Ball/Dunham school until it was torn down log by log in the 1910s and moved to Price Ranch. It was then called Price School, until Martha Sommers started attending school there in 1918, when it became known as the Price/Sommers school.
The Burnham Building, named after proprietor Rex Burnham, served at various times as a pharmacy, morgue, and tailor in Big Piney, before being acquired by the Museum in the early 2000s. Today, it contains exhibits representing its different functions, including clothes, fabric, dolls, coffins, embalming equipment, and laundry machines.
The Back Building is the museum’s largest and most diverse building, featuring everything from an exhibit on tie hacks, to a homemade snow machine, to displays on the local oil and gas industry, to the famous Cowboy Bar, complete with the brand wall, and many more treasures, big and small. This building also contains a kids area, an open research center equipped with an abundance of reference materials, and an exhibit dedicated to local veterans. Many of the museum’s presentations and events are held in the Back Building.