First, the housekeeping: What will be coming out this Christmas are Marian's Christmas Wish and four of my moldy oldie Christmas stories, but only in ebook format. The editor says that if the demand is good, they'll be issued in paperback sometimes next year. Works for me. The cost will be around $2.99, we think, which seems reasonable.
Now, back to last week. After I left the Indian Wars conference (excellent, as always, except gee, we Indian Wars scholars are getting older and older), I visited friends, then spent Sunday night in the Virginian Hotel in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Now that's a hotel. Built in 1911, the current owner, a nice chap named Scott, is staging a centenary event in June. James Drury of the old Virginian TV series will be special guest of honor. (James Drury has got to be getting long in the tooth.) Scott says all the rooms are taken, plus the motels he owns in Medicine Bow, and the old bank that's been converted to hotel rooms.
When I checked in, Scott warned me that the heat hadn't been turned on upstairs yet (not many late spring visitors), and I'd be the only one staying in the hotel proper that night. I said I didn't mind, and I didn't. I was given one of the suites, which is a separate bedroom, bathroom, and sitting room. It was like staying in a museum. The brass bed was comfortable in all the right places, and there was a teeny bit of heat coming out of the radiator in the sitting room. I've enclosed a photo of the room, and the Owen Wister dining room downstairs. (If there had been any ghosts roaming about, I'd have been fair pickin's, but I slept quite soundly. Nice to know the Virginian is not as haunted as the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico.
While in The Virginian, I reminisced about something my friend, Laura Lee Wilkinson, had told me, when I saw her that day in Torrington, Wyoming. Laura Lee comes from a ranching family. Her sister and husband still ranch on the old property, which is located near Laramie Peak. It was, and remains, an isolated ranch. When Laura Lee and her two sisters were high school age, they moved into town (Laramie) for high school. When Laura Lee eventually graduated from the U of Wyoming and returned home to teach at a one-room school, she rode her horse to work. (She had a blizzard story that made my hair curl.) When they lived on the ranch, they only went into town twice a year for supplies. And I don't believe there was any phone service.
Laura Lee told me about an experience her father had as a 12-year-old boy on a trip to rootin' tootin' Medicine Bow from the ranch. This must have been in the 1910s or '20s, as near as I can figure. He was told by his father to hitch up four horses to the wagon, tie his saddle horse on behind, and ride to Medicine Bow for salt blocks for the cattle. Before he left, his father told him, all calm-like, to be careful when he drove the team across the railroad tracks there in Medicine Bow.
"If that near horse hears the train whistle, he'll spook," the rancher told his 12-year-old son. "What you do then is keep tugging on that inside line. The team will go in a circle, and you can get them quieted down."
It was a two-day trip. He spent the first night on the trail. The next day he got into Medicine Bow and filled the order at the feed store. Sure enough, as he started across the railroad tracks, there was a train coming and it tooted.
"Dad told me that the team took off running," Laura Lee told me. "He tugged and tugged on that inside line, and the team, the wagon, and the saddle horse tied on behind went around and around in circles until the one skittish horse settled down."
When everyone was straightened out, he pointed to team toward the ranch and started home. After one more night on the trail, he got there. His dad helped him unload the supplies, and when he was done, asked him, all casual-like: "Have any trouble, son?"
And that was it: a kid growing from boy to man because he had to, in a great state with people just like him. I love Wyoming.