"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Wyoming Journals, Ch: 7: When You Call Me That, Smile!

Ch.  7:    When You Call Me That, Smile!

“We figured he was a rich guy from out of state, come to find himself.   We get those, from time to time.  Maybe they’re writing a novel.”—fictional character living in fictional Mule Crossing, Wyoming, in Lee Child’s novel  The Midnight Line: a Jack Reacher story.

(Note:  This post is illustrated with photos of the hotel rooms in The Virginian hotel, Medicine Bow, Wyoming.)

Could be, you know.  Wouldn’t be the first time some rich guy ditched his law practice back East, went to a dusty wide spot on a dusty road in Wyoming, and wrote a novel.  Owen Wister did, after all.

Got all educated up in New England boarding schools and Switzerland and then graduated summa cum laude from Harvard law.   In between, he spent some summers in Wyoming and his experiences there left indelible memories that he later penned in a novel called The Virginian.

There’s no arguing the fact that Wister’s book launched a new genre in American literature, i.e., the western.   There’s no doubt that the book was an immediate best seller.   And, it is  certainly fact that the novel established the romanticized view of the West.

From Encyclopaedia Britannica:

The Virginian is the story of an unnamed cowboy who, despite his hardened exterior, displays the “civilized” values of chivalry and honor in the “uncivilized”environment   of the West. The book was an immediate best seller  and made Wister a wealthy man. It solidified the cowboy as a stock fictional character and introduced story lines now considered standard in westerns, such as the virginal heroine, a schoolteacher from the East, and her rough cowboy lover, who depends for his life on a harsh code of ethics. The book also reflects the theme of sectional reconciliation—the cowboy is a Southerner-turned-Westerner who courts the Easterner—so common in post-Civil War American fiction.

The book’s climactic gun duel is considered the first such “showdown” in fiction, and the book is the source of one of the most famous tough-guy admonitions in American popular culture: “When you call me that, smile!” Although 21st-century critics often criticize the book’s romanticism, sentimentality, and myth-making about the West, few deny its extraordinary influence: it was one of the first mass-market best sellers in the United States; it was the first western to receive critical acclaim; and it was later the basis of a play, several films, and television series.

Yep, that’s certainly genuine.

What is in doubt is exactly where Wister wrote his famous story.   It seems to be accepted local lore that Wister’s novel used Medicine Bow, Wyoming, as its setting.   Some even claim he wrote the book while holed up in the last room on the second floor.

The odd angle of this photo is because I was jammed up against the wall trying to eliminate glare on the door.

Except.   The book was published in 1902 and the hotel didn’t have its grand opening until 1911.   So, apparentlty Medicine Bow’s first mayor August Grimm and his partner built the hotel to capitalize on the book’s fame.

Siting room and bedroom in the Owen Wister Suite

Upstate in Buffalo, another hotel called The Occidental takes a bite out of the Wister legend, and claims that Wister spent a fair amount of time scoping out the cowhands in the saloon for some local color.  Shoot, the hotel even names its dining room for Wister, the whole dining room, not the little semi-private dining room in Medicine Bow.


Some even claim parts of the book were written there, and that the final shoot out happened right in front of The Occidental.   But then, so does The Virginian in Medicine Bow.


Official Journal of the Wyoming State Historical Society:
From the lobby of the Old Occidental, along about the 1890's, many of Owen Wister's characters found their way into the pages of his 'Virginian.' It was here that many of the manners, customs, and expressions of the genuine cowboy were impressed upon the mind of the author of this widely known book, one of the few books upon the West that portrays the life of the cowpuncher as he really lived it.

So, Buffalo, with a population of around 4500 at an elevation of 4600 feet, appears to counter the claims of Mediciine Bow, population 270 at an elevation of  6565 feet, has an unfair advantage.   Maybe it's the thin air at Medicine Bow.   Whatever, the burgers were good, and as I'm partial to small towns, I tend to go with Medicine Bow's claims.


I reckon only Wister knows fer sure, and he ain’t tellin’.   Not at this late date, anyway.   He kicked the bucket in 1938.

This sign was at the end of the hotel hallway on a window that opens onto the fire escape.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Wyoming Journals, Ch. 6: Medicine Bow and Burgers at The Virginian Hotel

When last we saw our intrepid hunters, they were riding off into the sunset with their freshly harvested elk.   That evening, we know they dined on lasagna made with ground elk.   Another elk, harvested in another year, not this one.

There are no photos of the elk lasagna because I was too hungry to stop and take a photo.   Somewhere in the hundreds of photos I took, I think there is one of leftovers being stored in plastic containers.  

The next morning brings the BOING!   BOING!    BOING! of that infernal “melody” from Chris’s phone alarm.   Lawdy, but I hate that song, but to be truthful, I hate any noise that emanates from any device meant to awaken me.

Prairie dog
Up at 4:05.  Chris always gets back in her sleeping bag after hitting snooze or whatever she has to do on her phone, and I’m sure it’s so that I can spend five minutes dreading that wretched noise a second time.

We’re eating pancakes for breakfast at 4:30.   Brad and Charles go off to hunt and we four cousins go back to our beds.   That’s a perk that happens when your team has harvested an elk.

Later in the morning, Bud, Bob, and I drive to Medicine Bow to deliver the elk to the game processor, Maddox Meat.  Waiting for Bud to complete his order, I notice a sign on the wall that warned of a $50 extra charge is game was brought in WITHOUT the hide.  The reason, of course, is so that the meat stays clean.  I suspect in Alaska, if you had the ability  (crane, forklift, etc.)to take a whole moose in, hide and all, you’d be charged a whole lot more!

It seems that everything important in Medicine Bow is located on the main street, the Lincoln highway.  There’s Maddox, a gas station/convenience store, a bar, an ice cream store (closed), and an RV park.  Medicine Bow was founded in 1868 as a watering station for the steam locomotives of the Union Pacific  railroad.   

Brad's antique truck backed up the offload the elk.  Cousin Bud built the tool boxes, etc. on the truck.

At it highest population, in the 1980 census, there were 953 folks counted.   In the 2010 census, only 284.   But, the estimated population in 2016 was down to 270.

I don't think the census counted the dogs.

We drive over to the gas station, fill up, and walk into the convenience store.  The lady behind the counter, like most westerners, is friendly to strangers and we talk for a while.  I am floored by the price of hot dogs, and ruefully recall $3 hot dogs in Alaska.   These aren’t little bitty dogs, either.

A large hot dog is $1.39!
And they aren't little ones, either.

Our next stop is next door (almost) at The Virginian, an historic hotel built in the early 1900s.  The three of us all order burgers and fries and I wander around with my camera.

During its heyday in the early 1900s, this was the largest hotel between Denver and Salt Lake City.


We will certainly hear more about this claim later in the Wyoming Journals.

The young fellow who waits on us is as skinny as a stalk of straw.   He’s wearing sneakers, jeans, and a black hoody that he wears with the hood pulled over his head.   It’s odd, but there is nothing to complain about with his service.  He’s polite and knows the right way to ask and serve.  It’s the hoody!   I have to wonder if he's hiding something.

Add caption
Cousin Bud is seated and staring at his phone while Cousin Bob checks out the decor.

Across the street.

Then, we head for camp.   Along the way, we spot many pronghorn antelope in the fields.


This fella is antler-challenged, having none on the right side of its head.

Pronghorn with some of the wind turbines.



We have one more stop to make before we get back to camp, one that utterly enchants me, but that’s another chapter in this on-going tale….   

Pretty soon we will get to the shoot-em-up.   Stay tuned.


Stop at the right spot and you find the wind turbines aligned.

Some photos from inside The Virginian restaurant and special dining room:

This is in the special dining room, apparently for meetings, etc.

Note the ceilinig.

A waiting room for the restaurant.

The Saloon.  Again, note the ceiling.