On Saturday, I took a great walk along the town’s Clear Creek Trail, which meandered along a beautiful rocky creek, while Fred relaxed at the RV. I thoroughly enjoyed my walking time, and finally made my way from the creek to the historic downtown area. There I wandered all around the old Occidental Hotel, built in 1880. I also toured the neighboring saloon and restaurant named The Virginian. Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Tom Horn (we learned about him back in Cheyenne), and a young Teddy Roosevelt all stayed in the famous hotel, which recently was named by True West Magazine as the best hotel in the West. All the rooms and suites are furnished with antiques and decorated in elegant period style, but they also have been outfitted with modern amenities. I was permitted to go see the rooms that were not occupied, and also had an enjoyable conversation with the lady who was changing linens in rooms recently vacated. She was happy to tell me all about the current owner who bought the hotel in 1997 and who has faithfully restored it to its grand condition. The embossed ceilings overhead in the lobby and in the saloon are the original ceilings. The back bar in the saloon is the original back bar that was brought in by wagon a hundred years ago and the bar where you can sit is twenty-five feet long. Many of the chairs are antiques that are original to the hotel and saloon. Even the bullet holes in the saloon are originals. Wyoming Homes and Living Magazine did a spread on the hotel which can be seen at this website: http://www.occidentalwyoming.com/as_seen_in_small_layout.htm
. Much of the original materials and furniture were retained because the same woman ran the hotel for 58 years, until she died at age 92 in 1976. Between then and 1997, however, the hotel was used as various shops and deteriorated a lot. Even though a lot of restoration had to be done to return the hotel to its original state, the current owner was fortunate that the previous owners never threw anything out. I love old hotels and this one was especially fun to tour, probably because the cleaning lady was so knowledgeable about the hotel restoration. A former barber shop in the saloon is now a gift shop, and at the restaurant you can even ask to eat in the vault where a former bank housed its valuables. I even found out that Owen Wister, author of the novel The Virginian, written in 1902, based his characters on cowboys and gunslingers that he observed when he often visited the Occidental. Many historians even believe that the shoot-out at the climax of the book took place in front of the Occidental.
Fred met me in town later and we toured the Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum, housed in the town’s old Carnegie Library and several additions. This museum turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It was much larger inside than it appeared, and it took us a couple of hours to walk through all the exhibits, but we were not permitted to take any photos inside. Gatchell was a pharmacist in Buffalo in the first half of the 20th century and also a historian and writer. He was friends with many Native Americans and was given many artifacts by them and also by old settlers in the area. He exhibited his artifacts in his pharmacy on Main Street, and after his death his family donated his collection to the city. The museum has added many more exhibits over the years since it opened. It now includes a homestead cabin with original furnishings, exhibits about the tribes of the area, the geology and animals of the region, and many displays and artifacts from the history of the area: the forts, the Bozeman Trail, the Indian battles, and the Johnson County cattle war. Also on display are chuck wagons, work wagons, a sheriff’s paddy wagon, and a shepherd’s wagon; Fred called this an early type of RV, and really it did look like that inside! We learned a lot here: about Fetterman’s Massacre Site (where Oglala Sioux attacked and killed 80 soldiers under Captain William Fetterman in 1886), the Wagon Box Fight (where a detail of soldiers successfully held off an attack by Sioux and Cheyenne in 1887) and more about the Johnson County Wars between the large cattle barons and the homesteaders in 1892. History buffs might enjoy this site: http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/index.html
. I found lots of information about all the events that happened here in “Powder River Country” as those who live here call the area.
This afternoon, Fred decide he wanted to relax at the RV again, but that creek kept calling my name, so I took a book and walked along the Clear Creek again till I found a bench facing the creek, and there I relaxed, read my book, and listened to the water flowing over the rocks. What a great way to spend a couple of hours. Tomorrow we leave Wyoming and head over to Spearfish, SD for a few days. We were there in 2005 and it has been on “our list” since then; we wanted to return and visit more around the area.