On a road trip I took with my daughter last year, I insisted that one of our cross-country stops had to be Buffalo, Wyoming. Conveniently nestled at the foot of the Big Horn Mountains on the Cloud Peak Scenic Byway (as well as near the Bozeman Trail), it lies between Yellowstone—or Cody, if you prefer—and the attractions of the Dakotas. In our case, we were headed to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. But, if you look at any of those other attractions, the likelihood of them mentioning Buffalo in their advertisements is not great. And that’s a shame.
Buffalo is steeped in history. Some might say it’s a good thing that not many people make their way down the circuitous roads that lead there, but to me it’s something of a pity. Founded in 1879, the town isn’t named for bison but for Buffalo, New York. Apparently, the name was drawn out of a hat amidst other suggestions, having been put in by a N.Y. native. As the local area developed with large cattle companies out on the Powder and Sweetwater Rivers and elsewhere, it soon became the major stopping place for cattle barons and travelers alike. Hotels were built in 1880 to cater for these people, including The Capitol and The Occidental, which started as a basic log structure with 6 rooms, a saloon and restaurant.
While The Capitol has been
converted into modern rental suites, the Occidental maintains its Old West
charm. It has played host to Buffalo
Bill, Calamity Jane, Teddy Roosevelt, General Phil Sheridan, Owen Wister who
wrote The Virginian’s walk down scene as taking place outside, and
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
|The Occidental Hotel in 1883|
That brings me to The Hole-in-the-Wall. About eight-five miles from Buffalo is the notorious Hole-in-the-Wall where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, along with their ‘Wild Bunch’ gang, hung out. Based around Ghent’s Cabin, the Hole-in-the-Wall became a veritable village of outlaws, and included a livery and cabins. Elzy Lay, Black Jack Ketchum, ‘Kid Curry’ Logan, and other famous outlaws ‘holed up’ there. While several gangs used the site, apparently there was little interaction between them, and it proved an ideal place to winter Wyoming’s minus sixty temperatures. To reach the “Hole” today, it is a 2.5 miles hike from the trailhead parking lot.
Buffalo is the Johnson County seat and so played a major role in the famed Johnson County War. It must be said that things got unpleasant after the winter of 1886/87 when the large cattle companies lost about 60-75% of their stock. By the late 1880s, things had got sticky between those large cattle companies and the smaller ranchers, and Ellen Watson—now known mistakenly as ‘Cattle Kate’—and Jim Averell paid the ultimate price and were lynched. For the full story of the hanging of ‘Cattle Kate’ please see my blog at https://andreadowning.com/2012/08/31/a-lynching-an-opera-and-a-book/ In any event, things between the large cattle companies and the smaller ranchers/homesteaders spiraled on from there and ended with the Johnson County War. This entailed the cattle barons hiring guns from Texas, who came out and started going after the smaller ranchers, who were accused of rustling. It ended at the TA Ranch in April, 1892, after a three day shoot-out. Today the TA Ranch, thirteen miles south of Buffalo, has guest lodging in its historic, preserved ranch house and bunkhouse.
When I moved from the ranch, at which I was staying outside Buffalo, to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, I stopped to see the marker of Fort Phil Kearney. This has a large interpretative site; the fort was used to fight Indian wars. It was actually burned by the Cheyenne in 1868 after being abandoned when the railroad made the Bozeman Trail obsolete. It was from Fort McKinney, on the other hand, that soldiers were sent to arrest the Texas gunfighters hired by the cattle barons in the Johnson County War. Situated on the Clear Fork of the Powder River (1878-1894), it was basically aimed at keeping Sioux and Cheyenne on their reservations, but it was from here that President Benjamin Harrison sent out those troops. Today it, too, is discernible by an historical marker.
So when I needed a setting for my latest novella, Long A Ghost, and Far Away which has come out in the anthology, The Good, The Bad, and The Ghostly, I sought someplace other than Jackson Hole, which is my part-year home turf, and turned to Buffalo, which I had visited.
The Occidental Hotel is
purportedly haunted and seemed a good spot to include, but it is the town of
Buffalo with all its history that intrigues me.
I hope you’ll get the chance one day to visit and maybe stay at The
Occidental. And, of course, I hope
you’ll read the anthology as well.
|The lobby of The Occidental Hotel today|
A native New Yorker, Andrea Downing divides her time between the canyons of city streets and the wide-open spaces of Wyoming. Her background in publishing and English Language teaching has transferred into fiction writing, and her love of horses, ranches, rodeo, and anything else western, is reflected in her award-winning western romances.
You can hunt down Andrea at http://andreadowning.com and athttps://www.amazon.com/Andrea-
My story, Long a Ghost, and Far Away (set in Buffalo) is available in the boxed set, The Good, The Bad, and The Ghostly--eight stand-alone stories by best-selling and award-winning authors, available at Amazon worldwide.