Museum of the Occidental Hotel:
A Living History Frontier Experience
(portions adapted from an article by Helen Buell)
In the summer of 1879 a group of travelers along the Bozeman
Trail in north-central Wyoming stopped for lunch along what was to become known as Clear
Creek. It was also the future site of Buffalo. At the time, one of the travelers, Charles
Buell from Wisconsin, cooked up a genuinely fine meal for his companions. Later that day
as he traveled over the recently opened Bozeman trail, he liked what he saw and decided to
settle along that same stream. Barely settled in and with his tent pitched along this
Clear Creek site, some hungry miners happened by. They asked if they might board with him
a few days, and Buell agreed to put them up. They were miners weighed down with gold they
had just recently found in the Big Horns, so Buell was well compensated for his efforts.
In fact, they also needed some place to store their gold and asked Buell, somewhat
naively, if there was a bank somewhere to safe keep their treasure. Charles Buell, not one
to miss an opportunity, took them to the back of his tent and pulled back a buffalo robe
that lay upon the ground, thereby revealing a deep hole. The miners quickly
"deposited" their money, and Buffalos first bank was born along
with its first hotel and restaurant.
Over the years, the Occidental was to have many partners and
owners, but always it played a central role in the development of this new territory. The
name of the town was pulled out of a hat in the Occidental Saloon. Tom Horn, the famous
Western outlaw, frequented the saloon. And many writers and artists have stayed here over
the years and made it their headquarters. Buell and his partner, A.J. McCray, made the
hotel a permanent log structure in the fall of 1880. At this time territorial meetings
were held in the north wing of the Occidental, and in 1881 the first meeting of the County
Commissioners was held here. For years the Occidental hosted most of the major, political,
social and cultural gatherings of Johnson County. The likes of Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy
Roosevelt, Owen Wister (The Virginian), General Sheridan and General Crook all
grace her registers. Even the notorious Calamity Jane chose the Occidental as her
headquarters when she came to Buffalo.
In 1895 and 1912 major floods took large parts of the Occidental
down stream. Rebuilt and added onto several times, it finally grew to be a block long with
brick and mortar additions in 1903, 1908 and 1910. In 1890 rooms were $2.50 a day and
meals were served around the clock. There was a full service bar, card and billiard rooms,
a barbershop and a lobby that provided a grand meeting place for all who came to Buffalo.
Only in later years did the Occidental fall on hard times.
Several attempts were made to revive her and the Smith Family, which had long since taken
over ownership, kept the establishment going by renting rooms out to locals. Margaret
Smith also saved everything about the Occidentals history and activities over the
years. This was later to become extremely important. In the fall of 1997, John and Dawn
Wexo, and Zoe Dawson (Dawn's daughter) came to town and bought the Occidental with their
promise to the Smiths to bring her back to her former glory as the preeminent social and
cultural meeting place of Buffalo. The Wexos have turned major parts of the hotel
into a living history museum, and they have worked diligently to restore the Occidental to
its 1910 era condition. The Occidental is open to the public with fine
accommodations and a restaurant and bar.