Monday, August 22, 2016

An Occidental Encounter

We made the short, uneventful, trip from Douglas to Buffalo, WY, on Monday, August 15.  Mid-afternoon found us comfortably settled in Deer Park RV Site No. 42.  This is a lovely family-owned park, and you can see from the pictures that our site has a large, grassy yard.  Behind us is a pasture with four horses, and there is a large dog-walk area and a half-mile walking trail through the woods.  It is ideal, and as a bonus there is an ice-cream social every night.

Nestled at the foot of the most rugged portion of the Bighorn Mountains, with a  current population of 4,638 and an elevation of 4,646 feet, Buffalo is the county seat of Johnson County.  The town sprang up in 1879 near Fort McKinney, which was established by the government to protect travelers along the nearby Bozeman Trail.  The crown jewel of downtown Buffalo is the historic Occidental Hotel and Saloon, which dates to the early 1800’s, and is one of only 129 hotels listed on the National Geographic Traveler Magazine “Stay List.” 

Hotel guests in the early days included “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, Calamity Jane, and later Ernest Hemingway.  Their pictures and those of many other famous guests hang in the downstairs hallway.  

Another guest was Owen Wister, author of The Virginian, the most famous western novel ever written.  It was the first of many in that genre, and the first novel we read in my University of Texas Western Literature class.  According to local lore, Wister based some of the characters in his novel on cowboys and gunslingers who frequented the Occidental Saloon.  The gunfight made famous in the novel, the first “walk-down” in western literature, supposedly took place in front of the Occidental Hotel.

RVers are a sociable lot, and we make new friends almost everywhere we spend a few days.  Our stay in Buffalo was no exception.  When we parked the RV, in the site just across from ours we met Dick and Eileen Jordan from Tucson who are traveling the west in their Winnebago motor home.  The four of us had drinks in the Occidental Saloon.  If you look closely, you can still see holes in the ceiling from long-ago gunfights.

Drinks were followed by dinner at the hotel’s Virginian Restaurant.  The atmosphere was great, as was the food and the company was even better.  John ordered the elk tenderloin.  We all had bites, and it was exceptional. 

Buffalo has a number of other attractions.  One we found particularly interesting was the Mountain Meadow Wool Mill.  

The largest full service wool mill west of the Mississippi, it was the first mill in the U.S. to create a system to track the wool from the ranch where it was produced.  The operation includes storing the wool until it is needed, then washing, drying, spinning and dyeing yarn for companies across the country.  

The mill came into existence in 2007 because the owners wanted to use local wool to spin into yarn they could use to make crocheted animals.  From a modest beginning, the company has grown by roughly 30% each year, and is unique in the way it works with the wool producers.  When the sheep are sheared each year, the wool is packed into large bales like those seen here.  


Instead of paying the ranchers for the wool at that time, the bales are stored at Mountain Meadow until the wool is needed.  As the bales are used, the producers are paid a price some 40% above what they would have received at shearing time.  In this way, the ranchers receive a better price for their wool, and Mountain Meadow does not pay for it until it is used.

We toured the mill, and received an education in how wool is prepared, processed, spun into yarn and dyed into all the colors of the rainbow and then some.  

The yarn hanging below represent the different colors available.  Each batch of wool that is dyed must conform to the colors in the control group.

After being dyed, the yarn is twisted into skeins.  This task was once done by hand, then one of the employees of the mill repurposed the motor from an old ice cream freezer to do it mechanically. 

The entire process is fascinating, and I'm sorry the Texas climate requires clothing to keep me cool instead of warm!    If only my friend, Eugenia, had been with us.  I know she would have taken home a suitcase load of these lovely yarns for her knitting projects.  

1 comment:

  1. I certainly hope to visit Buffalo some day. Looks great. Post is also great.