On Saturday, September 10, 2016, I participated in the 63rd annual meeting of the Wyoming State Historical Society in Buffalo, Wyoming. This friendly city of about 5,000 people, provided a grand welcome to the attendees at the meeting. As this Wyoming state historical sign in the center of the town proclaims, any direction from Buffalo is Powder River Country.
The town did not exist when the US Army erected Fort Phil Kearny sixteen miles north in 1866 and precipitated Red Cloud’s War. As a result of the conflict between the Native Americans and the White settlers bound for the Montana gold fields, the Fetterman Massacre occurred on December 21, 1866. The annihilation of 79 soldiers and 2 civilians by the combined forces of hundreds of Sioux, Northern Cheyennes, and Arapahos, was the largest loss by the western Army until Custer’s Last Stand, a hundred miles north, ten years later. In 1867 the Indians forced the abandonment of all the forts along the Bozeman Trail, and they burned Fort Phil Kearny to the ground.
Ten years later, the town of Buffalo was established as the seat of Johnson County when the Army returned to defend the Bozeman Trail and build Fort McKinney at the base of the Bighorn Mountains. Buffalo was at the center of the confrontation between open-range ranchers and homesteaders which resulted in the infamous Johnson County Cattle Wars of 1892. The fights between these two elements have been the subject of numerous books and movies. Owen Wister’s novel The Virginian, considered to be the first of the western genre, featured the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo. It’s still there.
I enjoyed my brief stay in Buffalo. I was impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of the members of the WSHS. Of course, I was thrilled when Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles–Book Two, won First Place in the Publications Category Fiction, “in recognition of the outstanding accomplishments and contributions to Wyoming’s legacy.”