September 16, 2008
I blasted across central Wyoming in one day, determined to make it to Buffalo, a Wyoming town nestled against the east side of the Big Horn Mountains.
The Occidental Hotel has a long legacy of western hospitality. Built in 1880, it started with humble beginnings – a main log building with six rooms upstairs and a saloon and restaurant below.
It became a hub of activity over the years, eventually expanding into one of the finest hotels in the west. However, like many historic hotels, business started to lag after the Great Depression, and after many decades of continuous decline, it fell into disrepair and finally closed its doors in 1986.
Rescued in 1987 by Dawn and John Wexo, a ten year restoration put the historic structure back on the map. In peeling back the worn interior of the hotel, many authentic, original aspects remained, from the tin ceiling to the wooden floors. Now completely and meticulously renovated, The Occidental Hotel not only offers outstanding lodging, but houses museum quality exhibits, making it a worthwhile educational destination, as well as an excellent lodging choice.
The hotel has a former guest list that reads like a “who’s who” of the old west. Central to the transportation paths of cowboys, outlaws and various visitors of influential position, Calamity Jane, Butch Cassidy, Buffalo Bill and Teddy Roosevelt are just a few of the guests who stayed there. And now so would I.
Several rooms were available for the night, each unique and decorated in different, authentic western themes. My choice was the Hoover Suite, conveniently located on the first floor, down a long hall and away from the street. In 1932, President Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, stayed in one of the two rooms that now compose the suite.
Decorated in rich green and burgundy tones, the suite offered a sitting area with sofa, writing table and television and a separate bedroom with an old-fashioned brass bed, dresser and table. Both rooms held fascinating antiques, with attention paid to tiny details. It was like sleeping in a museum for the night – a pleasant change from ordinary lodging.
A private bath with claw foot tub was positioned between the two rooms. Though unusual in logistical arrangement, it only added to the feeling of residing in an old, historical building. Care had been taken to make sure the bath had detailed amenities, too. An interesting side note is the fact that the tub is the same tub that was there in 1932, during President Hoover’s visit.
Other hotel rooms are linked to the building’s historical past. The Owen Wister Suite, for example, which commemorates the famous author’s regular visits to the hotel and saloon, where it is said impressions for characters of his well-known novel “The Virginian” were formed. The General Sheridan and Teddy Roosevelt Suites also give a nod to past visitors, as well as The Bordello Suite, composed of three rooms that represent quite a different aspect of the hotel’s early history.
Especially impressive is the care Dawn has taken to detail historical aspects. Small signs with specific information and displayed items are abundant. To use the term “attention to detail” would be a massive understatement.
The Virginian Restaurant, housed inside the hotel, was not open during my visit, but has the reputation of being one of the finest restaurants in Wyoming. I was able to grab a sandwich in the 1908 saloon, while enjoying the modern benefits of wireless Internet access. Though updated in amenities, the saloon still speaks to the hotel’s past, from the 25-ft. bar to the original gunshot holes in the ceiling.
By the time I checked out, I had decided to continue east. On Dawn’s recommendation, I took a side trip to Devil’s Tower National Monument – a magnificent natural structure that seems to rise out of nowhere – and then continued on into South Dakota.