Robert Wilburn “Bob” Edgar

Robert Wilburn “Bob” Edgar

Powell, Park County, Wyoming, USA
Death 20 Apr 2012 (aged 72)
Powell, Park County, Wyoming, USA
Burial Cremated, Ashes scattered, Specifically: Cremation has occurred with ashes being dispersed privately at locations dear to the deceased, with a portion reserved for a monument at Old Trail Town.
Memorial ID 88905386 · View Source
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Historian, archaeologist, preservationist, author, artist, marksman and firearms specialist, hunting guide, and trapper, naturalist and conservationist

One of the last chapters of the American Old West closed Friday evening April 20 with the passing of Bob Edgar, 72, of Cody Wyoming, founder of the Old Trail Town frontier museum and an internationally acclaimed historian and archaeologist. If the iconic western gentleman had need of a proper resumé, it would have also included artist, author, sharpshooter and firearms specialist, hunting guide and trapper, naturalist and conservationist.

Bob Edgar was destined to be a historian; the aggregator of the Old West that Cody Wyoming so dearly hung its hat on. While the community of Cody diverted much of its energy in promoting its western image through rodeo and the growing Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Bob Edgar chose to capture the real grist and edifice of the Old West and put a foundation under it. By recovering the artifacts of the past and giving them a new home and extended life at Old Trail Town, Bob Edgar assured that the frontier life and pre-20th century history of northwest Wyoming all the way back to the Ice Ages and earliest peoples will be experienced by generations to come. The greatest tool in Bob Edgar's toolbox for recovering the West was to become that West along his storied way. Few would doubt that Bob Edgar was the real live image of the American West before automobiles and airplanes. The veracity and dedication of his life's work went far beyond the fables, the fictional accounts, and the faux western constructs of Hollywood and Madison avenue to deliver the American West using its bones and grist, gunpowder and charcoal, it's dark leathers and black iron, its hand-hewn woods and mud chinks, as built by forgotten men with stone tools or forged axe and remembered by Bob Edgar's selfless toil to edify it all.

Cody folks have been blessed with the best of two possible " Western " worlds...a veritable Smithsonian institution of the art and academics of the West at the BBHC, and just three minutes away a living Williamsburg-like frontier village bursting with history that is but one step removed . If the BBHC is the cerebral artistic and professorial experience, Bob Edgar's Old Trail Town is the salt of the earth. Old Trail Town can be experienced with all five senses, also in a scholarly way where frontier life becomes art of its own volition.

Robert Wilburn Edgar was the firstborn of Paul Glenn Edgar and Marjorie (Downer) Edgar, delivered by midwife on July 27, 1939 at their rustic home at the base of Polecat Bench northeast of Powell Wyoming.

An early love of the outdoors and awareness of local history was infused into young Bob and his brother Larry at a very early age when the family resided at the small oilfield company camp town in Oregon Basin. Paul Edgar, who was part Comanche Indian, was an oilfield production man for the Ohio Oil Company, Husky Oil, and eventually Marathon Oil companies. Bob and Larry spent countless hours in the sandstone and cedar breaks of the Badlands, having little want or need of the slow glimmer of Cody town till the family moved there in 1950 with younger sister Helen and soon brother Dave, completed the Edgar family. Paul commuted to the oil field while Marjorie operated her successful home interior and furnishing business in Cody. Bob and Larry retreated to the sagebrush and ridgelines as often as possible.

Bob was educated in the Cody public schools, graduating Cody High School in 1957 and attending fledgling Northwest Community College in Powell to study art and archaeology, receiving an Associates Degree in 1961. In a parallel educational track, Bob was already an accomplished hunter and trapper by the time he left high school, employed by outfitters, and dived deeply into the lore and functionality of firearms. Outside the classroom Bob went about learning important skills about horsecraft and by virtue of a service station job maintaining Jeeps, not that the latter did him much good, since he destroyed three of them in the line of duty. It wasn't the Jeeps' fault.

While at NWCC Bob painted a large mural --still there last we knew---of the school's "Trapper" mascot in the personage of mountain man John Colter, a member of the famed Lewis & Clark Expedition of 1805-06 who went off on his own and became the first Anglo to see northwest Wyoming. As serendipity would have it, just five years later Bob Edgar gestated Old Trail Town across the river from the geothermal area known as " Colters Hell" on the west edge of Cody. Colter the mountain man most certainly walked the grounds of Trail Town's future location and the site of Bob Edgar's own family home and hub of his lifelong historical legacy.

Bob was interested in a lonely primitive one room cabin "way out west" of Cody above the DeMaris "Bronze Boot" Hot springs that was owned by a colorful worldly gentleman named Bill DeMaris ---who may or may not have been the out of wedlock son of one William F. " Buffalo Bill Cody " , the town's founder and icon. DeMaris owned a lot of property thereabouts, subdivided on paper, including one lot off the highway with a little cabin that was moved to the site from Vic Arland's c. 1878 trading post on Cottonwood Creek a few miles due north of present day Cody by German sculptor named Winold Wreiss in 1935 for his studio. It had been unoccupied for years and did not have electricity or running water. Bob leased it from DeMaris for $1.00 per year to make it legal. Acquaintances of Bob at the time recall that he would extinguish a lone candle that illuminated the interior with his .22 pistol.

Bob had been taken by a very attractive waitress, new to Cody from Texas, Janice Birchfield, and married her in 1959. They divorced shortly after having two daughters, Cathy and Susan. Jan was tragically killed in a car accident east of Cody. Bob became enamored once again, this time with Terry Deutch of Sheridan. After they were married the couple lived in the tiny Arland cabin, where their daughter Sherri was born. Such were the humble beginnings of Old Trail Town and the personal touchstones of Bob Edgar's life.

In his self-made career, Bob Edgar received many awards and accolades accruing a long list of national and international recognition from the Smithsonian Institution all the way down to local service clubs and everything in between: Governor's awards, state archaeological society awards and serving as Vice President of same, NWCC Distinguished Alumni , American Travel Writer's "Phoenix" award for distinguished conservation, serving on the state of Wyoming BLM advisory board, and many other meritorious accolades that Bob was too humble to record as they came over the transom on a regular basis.

Among other virtues, Bob Edgar did not seem to have the word "No"in his lexicon. He was by example the embodiment of a true western gentleman, and lived up to the Cowboy Code of courtesy and generosity almost to a fault. Few can say that of themselves. Bob was too humble to, but all around him knew it. Bad words seldom issued from Bob Edgar's lips, and when they did were either well deserved or in a purely historical context.

Bob was often asked to speak formally, sometimes in high places such as the Westerner's Club in Chicago, which he did, but was much more gratified by doing show and tell with school kids in Meeteetse or Cody or anywhere within driving range. Magazine writers appreciated the wellspring of Bob Edgar's work and countless pages were generated in publications at home and abroad. If the topic was the American West, Bob was on the contact list, but the unspoken truth was that the writers and reporters wanted as much as anything, to see him shoot his Colt 45 pistols with the accuracy of a neurosurgeon.

Bob Edgar became a world class sharpshooter, being gifted with extraordinary eyesight and hand control plus an intimate knowledge of projectile weaponry. Years of practice and hundreds of thousands of spent rounds honed his skills to the confidence level of being able to shoot objects from people's mouths and hands at 40 paces with the deadly force of a Colt 45. Folks honestly were not considered to be on the social register in Cody unless they had held something shot by Bob Edgar's pistol. Or put another way, Bob was one of the few men in America who shot a heavy caliber handgun directly at his own wife (Terry) hundreds of times and got away with it. Law Enforcement often looked the other way when Bob did some late night shooting in downtown Cody or Meeteetse, autographing buildings with bullets. One night outside the back of the Irma Hotel in Cody, Bob was monogramming a playing card for a bar patron who held it up against a wooden utility pole to capture the bullet. It did, the card was summarily and safely holed, but the electricity was killed at the police station a half block away. Prudence prevented Bob from copping to that...

Yet Old Trail Town stood on the brink of doom four times due to horrendous legal issues and an irresolute marriage, and another time it nearly burned to the ground when a group of US Cavalry redactors camped just west by the Cody Stampede rodeo grounds touched off a cannon and the sparks ignited a prairie fire that nearly consumed the buildings and contents on July 3, 1993.

In a cruel twist of fate, with those legal battles behind him and the road ahead for Trail Town clear for the first time ever, Bob's health began failing about the same time. Back when he was 18 years old, Bob had a defective kidney removed and lived the remainder of his life with one kidney, ignoring doctor's advice to take it easy and treat his body gently. Bob did not treat his body gently ... he was a physically strong man and engaged the world around him with great vigor, hard work, and impossible hours plus countless forays into the wild.

Once while guiding an elk hunter in the Thorofare, he jumped over a fallen tree only to land squarely with both boots on the back of a snoozing black bear in its day bed. Another time while shooting a .45 Colt handgun alone, the cylinder exploded and drove shrapnel into his leg and arms, probably the only time in the hundreds of thousands of round he fired from guns that human bodily harm was done. Another time while doing log work alone, he accidentally tore open his leg with a drawknife and nearly bled to death.

Bob also survived a nasty bout of tularemia (also called Rabbit Fever) when young, but as a middle aged man he began having mini-strokes (transient ischemic attacks, or TIA's), no doubt exacerbated by reduced kidney function and his general adamance to lighten up the stress he was inflicting on his own body from his rugged lifestyle and the physical work of wrangling whole buildings. To a fault Bob was averse to seeing doctors or even taking common over the counter pain relievers, preferring " Cowboy Up Medicine" and/or ‘horse doctoring' for the more serious aches, pains and contusions, of which there were quite a few. A faulty propane heater in hunting camp the mid-90's left Bob unconscious for a time, and it is speculated to have caused the onset of his crippling dementia. Although he hid it well, it became obvious by the turn of the millennia that Bob's mental faculties were slowly deteriorating. Dementia claimed him in the spring of his 72nd year, with so much of his life's work undone, but with few if any regrets.

Bob Edgar was a lifelong resident of the western Big Horn Basin of Wyoming and became its chronicler of pre-1900 life there, both on paper and in selflessly preserving the physical heritage. He seemed born to a destiny of both preserving the history and living it. His life and his work merged seamlessly.

There were far too many projects or collaborations in Bob Edgar's professional life to list here, but a few major milestones stand out. In 1960-63, Edgar and George Dabich scoured the entire state of Wyoming, inventorying and mapping Paleo-Indian archaeological sites at the behest of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center's first director, Dr. Harold McCracken, himself a world renowned researcher, explorer, and old-school naturalist who secured Smithsonian, National Geographic Society, and private funding to endow Edgar's position as the BBHC as Director of Archaeological Survey and Excavations from 1960-67.

Edgar and Dabich assisted by Larry Edgar were the principal excavators of the Mummy Cave project 35 miles west of Cody near the mouth of Blackwater Creek beginning in 1963 before the project was joined by the Smithsonian's Dr. Waldo Wedell. Mummy Cave yielded an unbroken archaeological and climatological record going back over 9,000 years, including the discovery of a very well preserved pre-Columbian human mummy, obviously a man of some esteem and buried with a treasure trove of possessions who was interred some 1250 years previously, 750 years before Columbus sailed and 350 years before modern Plains Indian tribes moved into the Absaroka-Yellowstone region. Mummy Cave became an encyclopedia of Native American life in the Rocky Mountains.

Of the myriad events that occurred at Trail Town, the pinnacle came in June 1974 when the remains of John "Liver Eatin'" Jonhston --Civil War veteran, mountain man , and former Sheriff of Red Lodge Montana---were reburied at trail Town, beginning the pioneer cemetery that today holds seven notable frontier characters. Johnston was the real life model for the 1972 Robert Redford film "Jeremiah Jonnson" a semi-fictional screenplay based on Vardis Fisher's biography "Crow Killer". Redford himself came to Cody to act as pallbearer for the man he portrayed onscreen, whose grave was in danger of being lost to a freeway project in Lancaster California. Bob Edgar had taken an interest in Johnston's life and offered Trail Town as a permanent home for the storied mountain man. Even as reporters descended on Cody and news accounts of the Reburial of Liver Eatin' Johnston saturated the global media. This event established Trail Town's reputation as a storehouse of Old West history in the larger world outside of Cody Wyoming, and many more film, television, and print media events only added to that media legacy, and continue to this day. Bob Edgar has done countless on-camera interviews over the years. A pilot of a western genre movie, "Absaroka" was filmed at Trail Town and the nearby mountains in 2008. Trail Town with its frontier countenance has served for countless community events, gatherings and presentations, more than a few weddings, and musical performances.

In 1982 a most curious chain of events drew Bob Edgar into yet another sensational national news splash involving the Old West. A psychic in Virginia named Virginia Mauricio claimed the spirit of a Crow Indian chief was contacting her and wanted to go home to his people. While skeptical, Bob organized a forensic archaeological search in the sandstone rims above the Whit Ranch west of Meeteetse, owing to his research of other Native American burial sites in the immediate area and the specificity of the psychic's vision. Miraculously (or not ), the splendored bundle burial of the great Crow chief Blackfoot was found by 17-year old Willie Plainfeather , son of Crow historian Plain Feather who lived to be 100. Chief Blackfoot (Kam-Ne-But-Sa) was born in the Absaroka Mountains in 1795 and rose to Chief of all Chiefs, having the wisdom to keep his people out of the Indian Wars and away from the US Army by signing the Laramie treaty of 1868 which gave the Crow people hunting and fishing rights and passage, in exchange for neutrality. Under Bob Edgar's direction, Blackfoot's remains were carefully excavated, and the Chief reburied with full tribal honors.

Truth be told, Bob Edgar had a propensity for unburying Old West personalities to rebury them at Old Trail town. To wit: from the Palette 1 Ranch on the Greybull River, Phillip Vetter, a settler who was killed by a grizzly bear but not after writing a death note in his won blood; Jim White, one of the most notable of the buffalo hunters; William Gallagher and Blind Bill Houlihan found on Meeteetse Creek, two 1880's outlaws involved in a love triangle at the notorious town of Arland now ghosted; Belle Drury , soiled dove from early Meeteetse; and Jack Stillwell, Civil War veteran and frontiersman have all joined Liver Eatin' Johnston in Trail Town's firmament. Whether Bob was acting as a historian, forensic archaeologist, mortician, or grave robber when moving these deceased folks around is a matter of some speculation, but the graves of Gallagher, Blind Bill, and Vetter would have been obliterated by backhoes or hydrology if Bob not relocated them.

A recurring theme in Bob Edgar's life is his association with the area around Meeteetse, especially the huge Pitchfork Ranch begun by Count Otto Franc von Lichtenstein in 1878, the first of the large consolidated cattle ranches in northwest Wyoming, penciling out at nearly 300,000 acres at is apex after WWII before the family divided it into the Pitchfork and the 91 Ranch which spun off the bar TL to the lawyer handling the deal.

Bob Edgar struck a lasting friendship with Pitchfork ranch manager Cal Todd in the 1960's while guiding and hunting the Greybull River. Bob became the ranch's hunting manager in 1968, taking over the wrangling of hundreds hunters in search of Pronghorn, deer, and even a few elk from the Pitchfork every autumn while the ranch hands were busy with roundup, weaning, pasturing and shipping, and continued hunting manager for nearly 30 years During this time he was active in a big game conservation partnership with Cal and Margo Todd (who left the ranch in the early 70's) and later Jack Turnell, husband to Charles Belden granddaughter Frances "Lili" Abarr who managed the Pitchfork until the turn of the next century.

Noted American historical fiction author James Michener and his team researched the Pitchfork Ranch for Michener's 1976 opus " Centennial " based on a fictional Colorado cattle ranch and dynasty that had a strong resemblance to the Meeteetse Pitchfork pantheon and setting. Edgar and Turnell did it one better when in 1978 they co-authored " Brand of a Legend " a history of the Pitchfork Ranch near Meeteetse, the outlaw ghost town of Arland and the Greybull River country from late Pleistocene to the present day for the ranch's 100th anniversary.

The following year, they duo published a book about the Wyoming woolgrower's history centered on the Lucy and Lincoln Morrison family of the Wind River Basin. Lucy became known as the "Sheep Queen of Wyoming" and was a relative of Turnell. Bob Edgar had always intended to write a much more comprehensive history of the Big Horn Basin, from Prehistoric times till the close of the 19th century. Regrettably, that happened before Bob lost his writing ability. He still left behind thousands of pages of handwritten accounts and research now housed at Old Trail Town. Bob also assisted many other authors with their own scholarly works on facets of Wyoming history and archaeology.

It was Edgar's association with the Pitchfork that provided a core building block for Old Trail Town. In 1971 Bob Edgar, Frances Belden with the assistance of others began "The Museum of the Old West" a 501(c) 3 Non-Profit Foundation. The Belden family had an impressive collection of Plains Indian artifacts and beaded clothing and many historical items. Frances Belden endowed "The Museum of the Old West with the funds to build a fireproof building and display cases to house the L.G. Phelps collection, which is now the centerpiece of the exhibits. Thankfully, Old Trail Town is now part of "The Museum of the Old West", a 501 (c) 3 Nonprofit Foundation, with a future as far as anyone can see.

During his heyday, Bob Edgar was perhaps better known in Meeteetse on a per capita basis than even Cody, and eventually acquired a cabin on some property up Meeteetse Creek. Bob is best remembered in Meeteetse for adding to the venerable Cowboy Bar's decor with an assortment of interior bullet holes.

Edgar was able to recover and reassemble some 22 original frontier buildings for Trail Town, from tiny one room cabins all the way up to entire mercantile stores, doing it one log and one beam at a time. Most notable is the "Hole In The Wall" cabin used by Butch Cassidy's gang, moved here from nearby Kaycee, Wyoming. As Trail Town evolved, Bob began populating a conjectural main street with building to resemble a town of the late 1800's. The Henry Rivers Saloon from the mouth of the Wood River c. 1888 was the second structure and still serves drinks and hosts card games on occasion. The post office from the earliest town in the Big Horn Basin, called Bonanza, on the Nowood River was relocated to Old Trail Town. The Burlington Store, the Rice Ranch commissary, an original store from Shell Wyoming , a grainery, livery stable, George Taggart's carpenters shop, and a complete blacksmith shop all from the 1890's now stand at Old Trail Town, as well as, and an ancient trapper's cabin and the log home of the first Mayor of Cody . Completing the roster of edifices are a few one room residence cabins belonging to buffalo hunters, Custer's Indian scout Curley, some homestead cabins, and a one room schoolhouse complete with desks and school supplies. A frontier barn style building that Bob built houses some of the wheeled coaches and wagons of the day and hosts occasional events. The outlier of Trail Town is littered with over 100 wooden vehicles, wagons, and implements of various sorts. A Mountain Man monument with bronze bust sculptures of Jim Bridger and John Colter was erected at the northwest corner of Old Trail Town and old time rodeo cowboy Floyd Stillings ashes was buried out back in 1997 alongside Buffalo Bill's grandson Bill Garlow Cody's.

However, many of Bob Edgar's long term plans for Trail Town never came to pass, including a large circular log building fashioned after a round mountain lodge built to resemble a 3D Medicine Wheel to house his growing Pre-Columbian artifacts collections. It is something of a shame that Edgar was distracted by legal issues and a dissolving marriage that siphoned away much of the energy and time needed to advance the work of physical history.

Thankfully, Old Trail Town in now owned by The Museum of the Old West, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit foundation, with a future as far as anyone can see.

It is a regrettable twist of fate that just as Trail Town's legal and financial battles were resolved. Bob Edgar's health began to fail him and his productive years were cut short.

Robert Wilburn Edgar was preceded in death by his parents Paul and Marjorie Edgar, his first wife Janice "Jan" Birchfield Edgar and second wife Terry Deutch Edgar, and niece Cori Edgar. Bob Edgar was also preceded in death by three Jeeps, several 3/4 ton truck engines, and a few hundred thousand spent ammo cartridges.

Survivors include brother Larry ( Jan) Edgar of Meeteetse; sister Helen(Joseph) Edgar Sowerwine Venier of Wapiti and; brother David Paul ( Ramona) Edgar of Wasilla Alaska; daughters Catherine(Rodney)Edgar Godard Dahlgren of Powell, Susan (Mike) Edgar Ward Welker of Pueblo Colorado ; Sherri Lynn Edgar of Cody, and Jill Roberts of Billings Montana , and ten grandchildren two great grandchildren with a third on the way, as well as many nieces and nephews.

Those wishing to memorialize the life and work of Bob Edgar past present and future can contribute to the Museum of the Old West Foundation, P.O. Box 546, or 1831 DeMaris Drive, Cody Wyoming 82414. Contributions are tax deductible 501(c) 3 and used exclusively for the maintenance and advancement of Trail Town and the Museum of the Old West.

Cremation has occurred with ashes being dispersed privately at locations dear to the deceased, with a portion reserved for a monument at Old Trail Town. Public services there will be Saturday May 12 at 1:00pm (non-denominational) with remembrances to follow. Old Trail Town will be open free of charge to the public that day.

Footnote (all history requires footnotes): On Tuesday, April 24, 2012 a small group of Bob Edgar's immediate family and closest friends gathered at the neck of a windy canyon, at the site of a hidden cabin on the old Outlaw Trail across Wyoming, probably frequented by the likes of Butch Cassidy 125 years earlier. Half of Bob Edgar's ashes were given back to the Earth amid some spoken words, a few songs, and the retort of three Colt 45 pistols not far from Bob's beloved childhood home in the sandstone hills and cedar breaks of Wyoming, where his heart has always lived and will live forever.

For all else that happened along the trail of his life, Bob Edgar's heart never failed him. It always faced the West.

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  • Maintained by: Peter Korin
  • Originally Created by: BrixtonWy
  • Added: 21 Apr 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 88905386
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Robert Wilburn “Bob” Edgar (27 Jul 1939–20 Apr 2012), Find A Grave Memorial no. 88905386, ; Maintained by Peter Korin (contributor 48177416) Cremated, Ashes scattered, who reports a Cremation has occurred with ashes being dispersed privately at locations dear to the deceased, with a portion reserved for a monument at Old Trail Town..