THE WILD BUNCH
In an earlier post I probably mentioned a backpacking trip to the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Big Horns — one of my favorite spots. The Big Horns are in north central Wyoming and just south of the mountain range is a region called The Hole in the Wall, where numerous outlaws and desperadoes could hide out from the law back in the late 1800s. The law, such as it was out west at the time, was in Buffalo, Wyoming, as was…and still is…The Occidental Hotel.
THE OCCIDENTAL HOTEL, BUFFALO, WYOMING
If you are traveling west toward Yellowstone National Park or maybe riding your Harley east toward Sturgis, SD or maybe going to meet the Mother Ship at Devil’s Tower, be sure to take the time to spend a night at the Occidental Hotel. Of all the hotels I will cover in this series of blog posts, The Occidental is possibly my favorite. The hotel originated in 1880 as a log building on the bank of a creek near the Bozeman Trail. This was Johnson County, Wyoming…you might have heard of the Johnson County War between the small ranchers and farmers and the larger land and cattle barons in 1887. The war was finally settled by the arrival of the US Cavalry. The little town of Buffalo became the county seat and the Occidental prospered. Eventually the log hotel was replaced by a fine brick building and then it was enlarged over time.
This was THE place to stay and lots of famous people spent time at the Occidental. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid would drift into town and stay in the room overlooking the sheriff’s office so they could watch the activity there. Teddy Roosevelt stayed here. General Phil Sheridan stayed here. Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane and Tom Horn stayed here as did President Herbert Hoover. Owen Wister visited the Occidental and wrote a major part of The Virginian while staying in the balcony room overlooking Main street. The locals say the town featured in the book is Buffalo — not Medicine Bow. I’ve been to both places and I lean toward Buffalo. Again, probably some of my relatives stayed here because they had a ranch about forty miles away and Buffalo was the closest “big” town.
The Occidental went into decline with the depression and then sank even deeper as highway motels sprang up. It finally became a local landmark as a bordello for several years and it endured it all. The hotel had only one manager for 58 years who carefully preserved everything. The building survived and, miraculously, most of the hotel’s grand furnishings were just carted down into the basement where they sat until 1997 when the hotel was reborn. The place was on it’s last legs and renovation took many years. It was only halfway renovated when we stayed here but it has progressed since then and today is a sight to behold.
We stayed in the Teddy Roosevelt suite and my daughter stayed in the General Sheridan room, next door. There is the Owen Wister room and the Herbert Hoover suite, the Hole in the Wall room and the Madam’s Retreat plus some cowboy rooms. When we visited, some of the old, run down sections were awaiting renovation and you could see how much work was involved in bringing the place back to life. There were even some scribbled notes on the walls from the old bordello days.
Besides the hotel and the restored rooms, there is also a saloon. This hotel was a full service operation — hotel, saloon, restaurant and barber shop. The saloon is well worth visiting even if you don’t stay at the hotel. There are bullet holes in the walls…real bullet holes. The current saloon and it’s furnishings date to 1908. It was a stand-up saloon so the bar stools and tables are a more recent addition. The bar is twenty-five feet long and could accommodate all sorts of outlaws and lawmen. Butch and Sundance died in 1908 in Bolivia (maybe?) but who knows, maybe they had a farewell drink at the Occidental Saloon. Ernest Hemingway was a hotel guest and I figure he surely had a drink or two at the saloon and maybe a Cuban cigar.
Today there is also a restaurant (The Virginian) and a cafe (The Busy Bee) but I don’t think they were back in operation when we were here.
It’s not cheap. Hotel rooms run from about $110 to $210 in the summer…suites run about $185. Winter rates are significantly lower….this is Wyoming and very cold and snowy in Winter.
Check out the web page for details: http://www.occidentalwyoming.com/index.php
Update…Travel Channel’s “The Dead Files” did a TV episode exploring the paranormal experiences of hotel staff and guests at The Occidental. Nothing like that happened while we were guests at the Occidental and there were no discussions or hints of spooks or spirits from staff or the owner who gave us a full tour of the hotel including parts that were not renovated. Such is the state of television these days.
*** *** ***
The Big Horns