Medicine Bow Museum


Slow down and smell the roses. Or rather, in this case, slow down and stop at the little Medicine Bow Museum in the small town of Medicine Bow in southeastern Wyoming 

The vast majority of people traveling across the state miss Medicine Bow. The interstate (I-80) passed the town by. But if you take Hwy 30/287 going west out of Laramie, or going east out of Walcott near Rawlins on the other end, you will find very little traffic, and you will go through the town of Medicine Bow. Sneeze and you might miss it. At least that was true the last time I went through the town.

The town of Medicine Bow was established as part of the construction of the transcontinental railroad in 1868. It is located on the Medicine Bow River, whose bottomlands provided wood for railroad ties. Later the town became an important livestock shipping center. 

In the middle 1880s Owen Wister, from Philadelphia, stopped by. He later made Medicine Bow the setting of his famous novel “The Virginian” (1902), which is considered the first Western. The town of Medicine Bow tries to milk that connection for all it is worth. 

The Medicine Bow Museum is in the old train depot. It is small but packed full of historical items. The staff is very friendly.

The sign on the museum quotes what I and many other people consider the most famous line in any Western: “When you call me that, smile.” See 

In 1911 the Virginian Hotel opened in town. It is a massive concrete-block building that is much too big for the local population of a few hundred people, but it was meant to serve the surrounding area and tourists. It is located across the street from the museum. Take the time to have a meal at the hotel. And visit some of the guest rooms. You will spend the whole time gawking. What a neat place. The motel addition is the usual setup, but don’t pass up the old-time, western look of the hotel and the eating facilities. 

The TV series “The Virginian” ran for nine seasons from 1962 to 1971. James Drury, who played the Virginian in the series, has been guest of honor at a hotel banquet celebrating the centennial of the hotel. The TV series put the town of Medicine Bow on the map for people all over the country. If people are asked to name cities in Wyoming they probably come up with Cheyenne, Laramie, and the tiny town of Medicine Bow. (BTW, the character Trampas was a villain in the novel, but Doug McClure played him in the TV series as a rowdy cowhand who added some fun to the story.) 

Wyoming is rich in energy. Medicine Bow has been the proposed site of a coal gasification plant. I do not know the status of this project, but there have been many delays. The operation of such a plant would change the nature of Medicine Bow. (Perhaps a reader can give us an update.) 

In the panorama photo the museum is on the left and the hotel is the big white building on the right. Note the landscape around the town. It’s rather empty, for one thing, and relatively dry. Hence the importance of the Medicine Bow River.