Longmire booms in Buffalo
September 2, 2014
Wyoming's rugged Big Horn Mountains and the hills, streams, badlands and canyons that play around their feet are steeped in history. So are the mostly-small communities clinging there. Bloody birthings stamped them with unforgiving characteristics, unspoken laws, unfading memories. Mostly gregarious and fun-loving, residents nonetheless display a stance, a gaze, a set to the shoulders and a crushing handshake that convey "Don't mess with me."
They are tellers of wonderful stories, and lovers of the same. What a strong foundation for the folksy three-day shindig that rocked Buffalo, Wyo. and surrounding areas July 18-20 – the Third Annual "Longmire Days." Spawned by an A & E television series simply titled "Longmire", the event clogged streets, overran local motels and restaurants, and caused the rocks and trees to ring with enough celebratory laughter to drown out the chuckle of sparkling Clear Creek, which romps through the middle of everything in Buffalo.
The 1880s Main Street bridging that creek and its accompanying layout cannot accommodate thousands of vehicles, so three separate hourly shuttles — running 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. – connected downtown Buffalo with the masses from 17 hotels, motels, campgrounds and a huge high school parking lot. Thousands of dusty soles trod in and out and through the historic Occidental Hotel portrayed by author Owen Wister as "where The Virginian got his man."
The talented writing of area rancher/author Craig Johnson inspired the television series, which promptly assumed a life of its own in the minds of millions, in a fictional Wyoming county and community that could easily morph into or out of Buffalo – a place with a sheriff named Walt Longmire. Of course, Johnson was on hand for the celebration, as were several of the actors who portray his characters in living rooms around the world. Through the generosity of the Buffalo Theatre those gritty dramatists held the twin silver screens hostage throughout the weekend, offering several hours of free entertainment each day to "Longmire" devotees as well as neophytes seeking a glimpse into the reason behind the celebration.
Johnson incorporates his Montana-borderlands Crow and Cheyenne neighbors into his books, and they live in the television series as well. He says, "I cannot imagine writing a contemporary novel without including all people. They are my neighbors, my friends…and they are too magnificent to leave out." That magnificence was impressed upon nationwide audiences held spellbound by a daily Pow Wow in Crazy Woman Square next to Clear Creek, a setting where revered Tribal Elders rubbed shoulders with city-slicker tourists.
Australian-born 52-year-old actor Robert Taylor portrays Sheriff Walt Longmire of fictional Durant, county seat of Absaroka County, where the Wyoming license plate number is 24. He told tightly-packed fans inside the Johnson County Library, "The place I grew up was no different than here, among farmers, my grandfather a blacksmith…people there drive trucks, go to church on Sundays, and like a cold beer. But my grandfather had traveled the States from about 1925 to 1933 and wrote a book titled AMERICAN TRAVELD. Things he did in the West…in robberies (on the right side you know!) in Chicago and Ohio…I was fascinated with the stories after someone finally found the book. So, it's a gift to play this role…I've been wanting to play this role all my life."
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Joining Taylor for the Buffalo festivities were fellow cast members Katie Sackhoff who plays his deputy "Vic" Morelli; Louanne Stephens who portrays Ruby; Zahn McClarnon known on the show as Chief Matthias of the Reservation Police; and Adam Bartley, beloved bungling "The Ferg" Ferguson of Longmire's office. All willingly autographed every believable (and unbelievable) thing at the old Clear Creek School on Friday and in Crazy Woman Square on Saturday to satisfy fans who were lined up for blocks as early as 6:30 a.m. for a session which lasted from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and left hundreds still standing in line, unautographed.
Various cast members participated in and appeared at many other events—starting with a Thursday evening "VIP Meet and Greet" at the HF Bar Ranch and culminating as The Ferg's own band topped off Sunday evening's Jazz Concert in Crazy Woman Square. A big Motorcycle Poker Run, golf events, a skeet shoot, street dance with live music by local band "GunShy," cowboy action shooting, "Dinner on the Mountain" (a pig roast graced by live music inside the Ski Lodge overlooking Meadowlark Lake) – even a Children's Show produced by Louanne Stephens – rounded out the weekend.
More than 3,000 attended last year. Buffalo's goal was 5–10,000 this year and this writer believes they hit somewhere in the middle of that, although all their Chamber of Commerce personnel were "taking days off" Monday so nobody could give me numbers or estimates.
The Longmire series claims six million dedicated fans; it's obvious that this world still loves the West.