CODY, Wyo. — One of the last chapters of the American Old West closed Friday evening, April 20, with the passing of Bob Edgar, 72, of Cody, Wyo., founder of the Old Trail Town Museum and an internationally acclaimed historian, archaeologist, artist, author, naturalist and conservationist.
Robert Wilburn Edgar was the firstborn of Paul G. Edgar and Marjorie (Downer) Edgar on July 27, 1939, at their rustic home at the base of Polecat Bench northeast of Powell, Wyo. 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 town in Oregon Basin. Bob and Larry spent countless hours in the sandstone and cedar breaks of the Badlands until the family moved to Cody in 1950 with younger sister Helen and soon brother David completed the Edgar family.
Bob was educated in the Cody public schools, graduating Cody High School in 1957 and attending Northwest Community College in Powell to study art and archaeology, receiving an Associates Degree in 1961. Bob married Janice Birchfield in 1959 and had two daughters, Cathy and Susan. Later Bob married Terry Deutch of Sheridan, had their daughter, Sherri.
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.
Bob Edgar became a world class sharpshooter, being gifted with extraordinary eyesight and hand control plus an intimate knowledge of 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 a Colt .45.
There are far too many projects or collaborations in Bob Edgar's professional life to list here, but a few major milestones stand out. Bob Edgar and George Dabich assisted by Larry Edgar were the principal excavators of the Mummy Cave project 35 miles west of Cody beginning in 1963. 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.
Of the myriad events that occurred at Old Trail Town, the pinnacle came in June 1974, when the remains of John "Liver Eatin'" Johnston were reburied there, beginning the pioneer cemetery that today holds seven notable frontiersmen. Johnston was the real-life model for the 1972 Robert Redford film "Jeremiah Johnson." 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, Calif.
It was Edgar's association with the Pitchfork Ranch that provided a core building block for Old Trail Town. In 1971 Bob Edgar and Frances Belden established "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 Belden collection, which is now the centerpiece of the exhibits. Thankfully, Old Trail Town is now part of "The Museum of the Old West," with a future as far as anyone can see.
Robert Wilburn Edgar was preceded in death by his parents, Paul and Marjorie Edgar; his first wife Janice "Jan" Birchfield Edgar; second wife, Terry Deutch Edgar; and niece Cori Edgar.
Survivors include brother Larry (Jan) Edgar of Meeteetse; sister Helen (Joseph) Edgar Sowerwine Venier of Wapiti; brother David Paul (Ramona) Edgar of Wasilla, Alaska; daughters Catherine (Rodney) Edgar Godard Dahlgren of Powell, Wyo., Susan (Mike) Edgar Ward Welker of Pueblo, Colo.; Sherri Lynn Edgar of Cody, and Jill Roberts of Billings; 10 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, WY 82414. Contributions are tax deductible 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 p.m. (non-denominational) with remembrances to follow. Old Trail Town will be open free of charge to the public that day. For all else that happened along the trail of his life, Bob Edgar's heart never failed him. It always faced the West.