Buffalo Bill Center Returns $70,000 Films – After Denying It Had Them
Written by Andrew-Rossi on May 26, 2021
In the shadow of litigation, the Buffalo Bill Center returns two valuable film reels to their owner – despite adamant claims they were not under their control.
In a surprising twist, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has returned valuable property to a former employee. It’s the latest development in a civil lawsuit currently filed against the world-class museum.
Bonnie Smith, a former curatorial assistant at the Draper Museum of Natural History, filed a lawsuit against the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association in the District Court of the Fifth Judicial District (Park County) on Monday, Jan. 25. The case accuses the organization of withholding personal property upon her termination on March 28, 2019.
The Buffalo Bill Memorial Association is a non-profit organization that does business as the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. It manages the museum complex and handles all its personnel and legal affairs.
The centerpiece of the lawsuit is two Super 8 film reels valued at $70,000.
Smith’s father shot both films during the Cody Stampede Parade in 1976. John Wayne served as grand marshal of the parade and dedicated the Winchester Firearm Collection for the museum later that day.
A receipt included in the lawsuit’s filing shows the B.B.C.O.W. took temporary control of the films on Sept. 25, 2014. Museum staff intended to digitize the footage for their archives.
When Smith was terminated, she claims the museum did not return the films or any of her personal property. The museum has denied this.
Then – on Wednesday, May 19 – the Buffalo Bill Center delivered both reels to the office of Christopher King, Smith’s attorney, in Worland.
The reappearance of the film reels is a strange development. The Buffalo Bill Center sought to have the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds they had already been returned to Smith.
Cheyenne attorneys Amanda Esch and Grant Rogers are representing the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association in the pending lawsuit. Neither attorney was available for comment on this story.
In their response to the case. the B.B.C.O.W. specifically denied that it failed to return the Super 8 movies. That response also claims the museum returned the rest of Smith’s personal property.
Representatives from the B.B.C.O.W. were also not available for comment. The organization historically refrains from commenting on pending litigation.
The B.B.C.O.W. was on notice for “unlawfully holding” personal property, including the film reels, on April 3, 2019. An itemized list and statement were signed by Smith, a museum representative, and a witness on April 13, 2019.
A partial list of the items that Smith alleges are still in the Center’s custody include:
- Three portable thumb drives
- A Rolodex of personal contacts and cards
- A cell phone and charger
- Two personal external hard drives
- Several binders and books
Both film reels were the central item in Smith’s civil lawsuit against the B.B.C.O.W. It’s uncertain how that case will progress now that they’ve been returned.
Regardless of this development, it won’t affect Smith’s federal lawsuit against the B.B.C.O.W.
Smith’s federal lawsuit alleges employment discrimination and wrongful termination. It was filed in the United States District Court for the State of Wyoming on Tuesday, May 4.
Several current and former employees are directly implicated in the case. Amongst them are Rebecca West and Peter Seibert, the current and former executive director, respectively.