Place: The Virginian Hotel
Location: Medicine Bow, WY
Date of Investigation: 9/16/13
The town of Medicine Bow got its name from the nearby river, where plains Indians made their bows from elements found near its banks. The river was good medicine to them, so they called it, the Medicine Bow River.
During the 1830s, this area was discovered by trappers and mountain men as a good location to make camp, despite the wind which often blows through the area.
The town of Medicine Bow began with a bang, as a result of the establishment of the transcontinental Union Pacific railroad through this location in 1867. The railroad built a tie boom on the Medicine Bow River, along with a depot, a water stop, and a coal-loading facility. They also constructed livestock loading pens. Medicine Bow was good to go, destined to be an important livestock shipping center. As the town prospered, it grew up around the railroad set up, beginning with a store and a saloon. By 1876, a post office and a school was built to accommodate the families who were moving to the area.
By 1870, business was booming, as Medicine Bow quickly became a major supply station. By the late 1870s and early 1880s, Medicine Bow was a major shipment center for range cattle going to market, and enjoyed a flow of people and products into its town as well. Cattle were brought as far away as Idaho and Montana. As many as 2,000 head of cattle made their way to Omaha Nebraska’s meat packing plants.
As it was to be expected, the local Indian tribes weren’t too happy about the influx of people, so it became necessary to have a federal military post established temporarily in Medicine Bow to protect the city and the railroad from hostile attacks. This further stimulated the economy here.
Despite its growth, Medicine Bow still had loads of authentic rustic charm, being distinctly different from any town found in the well-established, civilized communities of the east coast. Western novelist Owen Wister describes the town of Medicine Bow in 1885. “This place is called a town. ‘Town’ will do very well until the language stretches itself and takes on a new word that fits.” He added that the community of 29 buildings – including a depot, store, billiard house, feed stable, two eating houses and other structures appeared as if “strewn there by the wind.”
Still, Medicine Bow did grow on him, inspiring him as a writer. Medicine Bow’s claim to fame is that it was the setting for Wister’s famous book, THE VIRGINIAN, considered to be the first novel written about the wild west, which was a best seller for many years, and still draws tourists to this town today.
By the turn-of-the-century, 1000 tons of wool from sheep were taken by train as well. In 1909, the Union Pacific Railroad transferred ownership of Medicine Bow to the residents, who then incorporated as a city. By 1913, a transcontinental auto highway, known as the Lincoln Highway, ran right by Medicine Bow, bringing travelers wanting to see Wister’s memorabilia.
This inspired the town’s first Mayor, August Grimm, and his partner, George Plummer, to make hay while the sun shines. They built a three-story, high class concrete block hotel on the main street, calling it, The Virginian Hotel, to capitalize on the success of Owen Wister’s book, THE VIRGINIAN, catering to tourists, who were motoring down the Lincoln Highway. The Virginian Hotel had the first electric lights and sewer system in town. The Virginian Hotel had its grand opening on September 30, 1911, beginning its years of service with a gala party. It was the biggest hotel between Denver, Colorado, and Salt Lake City, Utah.