Downtown Buffalo today
Buffalo, Wyoming, is the county seat of Johnson County, and one of the most historic cities in Wyoming. Butch Cassidy undoubtedly walked its streets, and Owen Wister visited Buffalo, stayed at the Occidental Hotel, and based many of the characters in his novels on people he met around Buffalo. Much of the Johnson County Range War happened in and near Buffalo.
Although Buffalo was founded in 1879, when Fort McKinney was established, it did not become incorporated until March of 1884.
In a 1918, Buffalo Bulletin, it tells how Buffalo got it’s name.
BUFFALO At the foot of the Big Horn Mountains lies the city of Buffalo, The first people visiting this part of Wyoming came In 1811, to carry on the fur business in the great western county. Buffalo. which is built on both sides of Clear Creek, is a thriving modern city and contains about two thousand Inhabitants….. After a few buildings had sprung up and settlers had begun to arrive the Inhabitants decided to start a town, and of course give it a name. Each man was given a slip of paper and on this slip he was to write the name he desired. The slips were put into a hat and the first slip drawn out was the name of the new little city.
Will Hart, a native of Buffalo, New York, wrote the name of his birth place. His slip was the first one drawn and thus Buffalo was duly named, and not as so many think, from the herds of roaming buffalo. The first hotel in town was the Occidental and was built by Charlie Buell. It first consisted of a tent pitched among the trees. Just behind where the present building stands.
From The Democratic Leader (Dailyed), on March 15, 1884, it talks about Buffalo’s Incorporation.
LAWS OF WYOMING, EIGHTH LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY. CHAPTER 11. Buffalo Incorporation of City Of, AN ACT to Incorporate the City of Buffalo. Be it enacted by the council and the House of Representatives of the Territory of Wyoming Section 1. That all of that portion of the Territory of Wyoming in the county of Johnson, situate on Clear Creek, immediately adjoining the United States military reservation of Fort McKinney, on the east, as laid out and platted for a town site by Juliet W. Hart, administratrix of Urn estate of Verling K. Hart, deceased, under and by the name of Buffalo City, together with all the additions that may he hereafter made thereto according to law, is hereby declared to be a corporation by the name of the City of Buffalo.
Section 2.The said City of Buffalo is hereby made a body corporate and politic, and invested with all the power and attributes of a municipal corporation, and shall have power to sue and be sued; to purchase and hold real and personal property for the use of the city; to sell and convey any real or personal property, and make much order respecting the same as may be conducive to the interests of the city; to make all contracts and do all other acts in relation to the property and affairs of the city necessary to the exercise of its corporate or administrative powers; to have and use a corporate seal and to alter the same at pleasure; to exercise much other and further powers as are or may be conferred by law.
In Buffalo’s The Big Horn Sentinel newspaper in May 1889 there is an article about the new town.
CITY OF BUFFALO. The Coming Town of the Great of Agricultural District of Wyoming. In the centre of this rich agricultural, stock and mining district, located above and in the centre of the most extensive coal deposits of the territory, and within three miles of the base of the Big Horn range mountains, is the metropolis of northern Wyoming, the city of Buffalo. It dates its existence from 1879-80; in the latter year, it had a population of 20 people, and in April 1883, when it was selected as the county seat of Johnson County, its wonderful growth commenced, and at once it took the lead as the principal town of northern Wyoming, which position it has ever since held.
In 1884 it was incorporated by the legislature of Wyoming under a special charter, and has a city government composed of a mayor and five trustees. Its streets are lighted by electricity; it, has a complete system of water works a fire department, with hook and ladder truck and hose carts. Its streets are well graded and always passable; it has substantial sidewalks and cross walks, fine brick stores, public buildings and residences. Its tax levy for three years has been but five mills; it has never issued any bonds, does not now (April, I889) owe a dollar and has about 8.00 in the city treasury. In the centre of Buffalo is Johnson county’s court house a structure of brick and stone. It was erected in 1883 at a cost 40,000…connected with and attached to the court house la the jail annex.
(According the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office the courthouse is a good example of the Italianate architecture style. It is a two-story brick building, and it is one of the oldest structures still standing in Wyoming. It was the sixth county courthouse built, and the second oldest in Wyoming to retain its original character and is still in use as a courthouse today.)
The article continues: Buffalo has two hotels; the Occidental and Cottage, which are both under the management of A. J. McCray, a pioneer of the town. Commencing with a small log Cabin and canvass building in 1881 as a foundation, the present commodious Occidental has arisen, with its sixty guest chambers and all modern conveniences.
The Occidental or the Ox, is still in business today, and is a landmark in Buffalo. It offers authentic historic accommodations with all the modern comforts added. It includes a 1908 Historic Saloon, and dining in The Virginian Restaurant.
Many famous and infamous people once stayed at The Occidental. Owen Wister stayed there, as did Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, and Calamity Jane. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came into town from their hide-out at the nearby Hole-in-the-Wall. The famous cattle detective and killer, Tom Horn, was a frequent visitor, as were legendary sheriffs like Frank Canton and “Red” Angus.
Cheyenne Daily Leader, on December 24, 1880
Occidental Hotel, Buffalo. Wyo. Just open to the public; everything new and first class, capacity for 100 guests. Travelers north will find everything for their comfort at the “Occidental.”
In the Buffalo Echo, January 7, 1887
BUFFALO. The County Seat’s Fast History and Present Condition. ITS LOCATION” Buffalo, the county seat of Johnson County, Wyoming Territory, is pleasantly situated upon the banks of Clear Creek, in Clear Creek valley, two miles east of Fort McKinney and distant about four miles from the Big Horn mountains. Its population is about 900 and the number is steadily increasing.
ITS PAST. The first building erected in Buffalo was built by Trabing brothers, in 1879, and was devoted to general merchandise business and in dealing with the hunters and trappers and with what few cow camps there were then in this part of the country. Owing to its proximity to the military post and to the advantages offered by the establishment of general merchandise business.
Buffalo at once became the center of attraction to the ‘rustlers’ of Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana, and on the banks of Clear Creek was soon gathered as rough an element of humanity as a frontier settlement is usually blessed or cursed with.
The article goes on to talk about the many ‘deed of violence’ during the years 1880 and 1881. However, in 1882, ….with the advent of a few more energetic and peace loving citizens,… the town soon began to wear a different aspect.”
Today, Buffalo is a thriving community of around 4,600 residents and still retains much of the frontier flavor. It is one of the stops along the ‘Black and Yellow Trail’ between the Black Hills and Yellowstone National Park. It is also a tourist destination, especially the Longmire days, held in August, to celebrate Durant and Walt Longmire, fictional town and hero of the Longmire T.V. show and the books by Ucross Resident Craig Johnson.
Historic Buffalo Wyoming, incorporated 138 years ago this month.