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Museum of the Occidental Hotel

Discover Historic Buffalo, P.O. Box 383, Buffalo, WY 82834

 

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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 Buffalo’s 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 Occidental’s 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 Wexo’s 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.


Occidental Hotel today

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