A Town of Western Legends
Meeteetse, founded in the 1890’s, is an old western town located just 32 miles south of Cody on Highway 120 along the banks of the Greybull River. The word “Meeteetse” is an old Shoshone Indian word for “meeting place.” The town retains much of its original character with wooden boardwalks, wooden watering troughs, hitching rails and many historic buildings from the turn of the century.
The Meeteetse area is rich in history with the expansive Pitchfork Ranch, famous as one the west’s true cattle empires. It was the first cattle ranching operation in the Big Horn Basin, established in 1879 by Otto Franc. By 1900, thousands of cattle grazed in the Greybull River and Wood River Valleys. Although first discovered on the John Hogg Ranch, the Pitchfork is also well known for the fact that the last known colony of the Black Footed Ferret, a species thought to be extinct, was found on its grasslands.
Noted outlaw Butch Cassidy lived in Meeteetse. In 1886, he signed a petition for the new bridge, and in 1894, he was arrested in front of the Cowboy Bar.
Forget Buffalo Bill, Billy the Kid, and countless men and women of notoriety who helped define the mythology of the American West. Meeteetse had its own brand of mythmaker: Poker Nell, Bronco Nell, Laughing Smith, Swede Pete, Airplane Jerry, Greasy Bill, Checkbook Charlie, and Shorty the Crock to name a few. Some were just the characters of local lore, but others were also among the everyday hardworking people who believed in, and helped shape Meeteetse.
Many characters ended up in Meeteetse when Arland dried up. Arland was one of the first settlements in the area, started by a Frenchman, Vic Arland, and his business partner, John Corbett. Arland truly fit the “wild west” image. Many a cowboy and several “sporting women” were shot and killed in this town, including W. A. Gallagher, Blind Bill Hoolihan, and Belle Drewery (“The Woman in Blue”).
Vic Arland shot Broken Nose Jackson “in self defense”, and just a few days later was shot in Red Lodge, Montana by Jackson’s friend, Bill Landon. Between the killing of Vic Arland and the movement of the stage coach and freight road to the East and away from Arland, Arland was soon abandoned, and many of the buildings were moved to current-day Meeteetse. Many of those in the Arland Cemetery were moved to the Old Trail Town Cemetery in Cody, where they rest today. There is no visible evidence today that Arland ever existed.
Meeteetse became a central hub of the Big Horn basin for passengers and freight. Freight was received at Moss’s Livery Stable, broken down, and sent on to many parts of the basin.
By 1906, the town had seven saloons, one store, two banks, and two hotels. There were several other bars scattered over the area. At the fork of the Greybull and Wood Rivers was a popular bar called the “Bucket of Blood.” The town had a reputation as a “wild and woolly” town until fairly recently. For the first time churches now outnumber saloons.
A group who invested in the Kirwin mining district also acquired some land on the Wood River along the path to Kirwin, to produce beef for the miners. Ernest R. May, traveled with the other investors to inspect their newly purchased holdings in Kirwin. They stopped along the way and Ernest went down to the river and did some panning. Finding no gold, he decided he wanted out of the Kirwin partnership. The other investors offered to trade his shares for 5,000 acres of land down the river from Kirwin. Ernest agreed and that transaction was the beginning of the Antlers Ranch. He clearly got the better end of the stick with that trade. It is still in the May family and American Bison (better known in these parts as “buffalo”) is the primary product. You can often see the buffalo grazing as you drive up the river.
In 1912, Josh Deane who homesteaded on the Wood River and had a Post Office there, served as mayor, and started Meeteetse’s Labor Day Celebration. He built a home on Park Avenue that still stands today.
If you look to the East on your way down Highway 120 from Cody to Meeteetse, you’ll see Josh Deane Butte behind the main headquarters of Monster Lake Ranch. The butte got its name from a story that Josh was being chased by a group of Native Americans who felt like he had wronged them. He climbed the butte and the Indians “laid siege”, keeping him pinned down on top. He was able to climb down under cover of darkness and make his way home safely.
In the early 1930’s, Carl Dunrud purchased the Kirwin area and the lands around it. Six and a half miles below Kirwin he built the Double D Dude Ranch. Among his first guests were Amelia Earhart and her husband, George Putnam.
The ranch included a main lodge, several individual cabins, a swimming pool, and a barn and corral to support horseback riding.
Later, Earhart asked Dunrud to build a cabin for her, where she planned to come after her flight around the world. In 1937, when she disappeared on her flight around the world, the cabin was four logs high and construction stopped. The cabin was never finished. It can be seen by hiking about one mile past Kirwin.
The Forest Service bought the land surrounding Kirwin and the Double D Dude Ranch from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The Forest Service has coordinated with the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office on a stabilization project at Kirwin. Volunteers are encouraged to help stabilize the buildings at Kirwin during the first week of August. Contact Meeteetse Museums at 307-868-2423 or the Forest Service at 1-800-517-0413 for details.
The discovery of oil reserves in the area has helped keep the town alive and kicking. As some dreams manifested and others were forgotten, the early settlers played out the hopes and promises of the West on the high plains of Meeteetse. The town today has several motels, bed & breakfast and mountain lodges offering accommodations in which to stay and a remarkable variety of dining establishments. All are heavy on local character and feature cowboy and western style decor.