Feb. 23, 2009
For a girl who was fortunate, as a teen, to study in France, the hardest thing about visiting Dubois, WY, was forcing myself to pronounce the town’s name correctly by local standards: DEW-boys. Then again, I could have been faced with the name “Never Sweat,” the town’s original choice, reflecting either the warm, dry winds of the area or the avoidance of heavy work by the local men, depending on varying written accounts. When the town’s first postmaster vetoed the name in 1886, it fell instead to Senator Dubois of Idaho, who happened to be on the Senate Postal Committee at that time. As the story goes, the locals adopted the current pronunciation as a rebellion to the name change.
Dubois is a sleepy town, compared to fast-paced Jackson, ninety miles away. Surrounded by the granite rock formations of the Wind River Range, it exudes a western ambiance that is genuine, rather than touristy. For those who like to browse a town’s main drag, it offers a main street with a few shops and cafes. And with 2.4 million acres of surrounding national forest, there’s plenty for outdoor enthusiasts to explore.
At the Dubois Museum and Wind River Historical Center, visitors are able to learn about the logging industry of the early 1900s, when the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company produced railroad ties for much of the United States. “Tie Hacks,” many from Scandinavia, worked year-round to keep up with the demands of the growing railroad industry. Tribute is paid to their hard work with a Tie Hack Memorial just outside of town. The National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center gives additional information about the local area, as the surrounding Wind River Basin is home to the largest population of Bighorn Sheep in the lower 48 states.
Once again, it was a historical log cabin that lured me to this quiet western town. Founded in the late 1800s, Dubois has been home to fur traders, homesteaders, tie hacks, Native Americans and last, but not least, outlaws. It’s the latter that drew me to a cabin four miles out of town. I was following the trail of Butch Cassidy.
Jakey’s Fork Homestead is a small B&B operation on wide open land several miles east of town. The main house is modern and spacious and serves as the owner’s residence, with three upstairs rooms reserved for B&B guests. The first floor has common areas for guests, including a breakfast room surrounded with windows, offering an unobstructed view across the valley.
I was greeted by Carolyn, the owner, who welcomed me with fresh baked goods and a glass of ice tea. Accompanying Carolyn was the resident canine, Sunny, a Katrina rescue adopted by the family three years before. Our conversation gave me some history on the area, as well as advice on local restaurants, which I tucked away for later reference.
With formalities finished, I headed down a hillside path behind the main house, crossing the inn’s namesake, Jakey’s Fork, by means of a wooden bridge. I arrived on a lower level, stepped out of a cluster of trees and found myself facing a group of log buildings, the remains of the former Simpson Homestead. It was here that Butch Cassidy spent Christmas night in 1889 and here that I would spend the night more than a century later.
The cabin available to overnight guests is the original bunkhouse of the Simpson Homestead, In reality, it is three cabins together, as two additional cabins have been attached to the original, one leading off to one side with a modern bathroom, including claw foot tub, and one stretching off to another side, serving as a kitchen and living area. Aptly, it is called “The Bunkhouse.”
I fell in love with it immediately, the moment I stepped inside. The cabin was carefully decorated to reflect the lifestyle of the original homesteaders, with many additional welcoming touches – gingham curtains, quilted bedspreads, reading material, a vase of fresh wildflowers on the dining table. I was immedately sorry that I had only one night to stay.
Outside, next to the tumbling water, I found a wooden swing, a picnic table and a fire ring. A small, private beach of rocks allowed access to the water’s edge. There was a feeling of complete peace and privacy.
Just a few yards from The Bunkhouse was a second cabin, still in the restoration process. This was the cabin that served as the main household for the original homestead. Within those walls, Butch Cassidy and his partner, Al Hainer, shared Christmas dinner with the Simpsons. From the written account on the B&B’s website, it is said that “it was a jolly occasion, with lots of laughter, games and plenty of old-fashioned eggnog.” As this was one of the last stops Cassidy made before embarking on another crime spree, I could only wonder about the conversation that took place within those walls. Additional information about Butch Cassidy’s history and Wyoming connections can be found here.
I could tell it wouldn’t be long before evening fell, so I decided to head into town for a bite to eat, in order to return before dark. The driveway to the lower property was unpaved and rocky and I knew it would be easier to navigate in the light. In addition, the sky was threatening rain.
On Carolyn’s recommendation, I headed to the Sundance Cafe, a rustic, yet upscale restaurant back in town, overlooking Horse Creek. It was surprisingly crowded, but I managed to get a small table after a short wait.
The menu was limited, but excellent, offering entree choices of Moroccan Style Duck Breast, Hawaiian Pork Loin Roulette, Rack of Lamb in Middle Eastern Spices and Vegetarian Penne Pasta. I chose the pasta, decided to forego the appetizer choices of Escargot or Thai Shrimp Cocktail, and enjoyed live folk music from a local musician named Christina. Fresh bread and salad started off my meal, which turned out to be a blessing, as the kitchen managed to lose the ticket to my order. To the cafe’s credit, they comped my meal and still prepared the pasta to go.
As the kitchen mix-up kept me lingering, I drove back to the cabin in the dark and made my way slowly down the bumpy driveway, headlights on bright, hoping to not hit a moose or deer in transit. I’d been told earlier that a bobcat had been seen recently in a nearby tree, but I escaped any potential wild encounters between my car and the cabin door.
I cracked open the window so I could fall asleep to the sound of the river and soon a light rain added soft, tapping sounds. Contrary to all instinct, I set an alarm clock for the morning. By habit, I’m a night owl, and I needed to be awake, dressed, coherent and up the hill for the 8AM breakfast that Carolyn serves. It turned out to be worth it. I had a little time in the morning to enjoy a serenade of birdsong, sitting by the creek with coffee, before joining other guests for raisin french toast, sausage, fresh fruit, pomegranate juice and yogurt.
After saying goodbye to Carolyn, I headed back through Dubois and passed another local eatery, The Cowboy Cafe. I was tempted to stop in, but breakfast had been hearty and I knew I had pasta from the night before. I ended up eating in a construction zone going over Togwotee Pass, which separates the Wind River area from Grand Teton National Park. Not the prime location for a nice meal, but the Vegetarian Penne Pasta was delicious and the construction delay worth it for the adventure I’d had.
From my hand written journal, before packing the car to leave:
I sit now in the Homestead Cabin in the exact one-room building where Butch Cassidy had Christmas dinner in 1889. Did he sit right here, where I’m sitting? Touch the wall by the front door? Walk across the floorboards that I have just crossed? I love the history and the hauntedness of it all. Must go. Very reluctantly.