Prospectors seeking precious metals and cattle rustlers running from the law all frequented the bar now known as Miners and Stockmen’s Steakhouse and Spirits in Hartville, Wyoming’s oldest town, with the rough and rowdy history to match.
That history included shootouts on Main Street, as well as a number of bordellos, and perhaps the state’s only attempt at an armed takeover. It was caused when an election didn’t happen to go the old mayor’s way, and the new mayor tried to force the issue.
In Hartville’s heyday, there were between five to 13 bars depending on which historical account is believed. These establishments served a community that would peak at 776 people in 1900. Many of these residents were immigrants from all over the world — Greece, Scandinavia, Germany and more. It was a true melting pot.
The saloon-keepers incorporated Hartville in 1901, as an independent community, so it could keep the gambling halls, the ladies of the night, and the two dance halls without worrying so much about the law in distant Cheyenne.
Today, with Sunrise mines long abandoned, Hartville has just 62 people living in it, and the Stockmen’s Steakhouse is its last and only remaining business. It sits on Main Street among former businesses that still have 1900s era facades, but today are mostly residences.
A traveler casually passing by this little steakhouse bar might think the town’s now tiny population means they could wander in and easily get a table, but they would be completely wrong. Those without reservations are likely to be seated at the bar with others who failed to prepare, or outside with the often rowdy Wyoming wind.
Despite Hartville’s tiny size, people actually come from all over the country to eat at the Stockmen’s Steakhouse, which has been re-imagined as a high-end steakhouse as good as any you might find in Los Angeles or New York.
In addition to serving one of the finest steaks in Wyoming or anywhere really, the bar offers a robust whiskey selection — 35 different spirits to try — and it is getting ready to add a new tap that will serve up to eight of Wyoming’s craft brews. The restaurant also has a specially blended coffee that is available for purchase.
Location, Location, Location
While marketing plan gurus would no doubt question — and even customers often ask — about the location of this elevated steakhouse in a community of just 62 people, the proprietors had a different idea in their mind when it comes to location.
Scott Harmon and his wife Christine are now the bar’s sole owners. Scott Harmon told Cowboy State Daily that his sister and brother-in-law were looking for a way to get out of LA when they happened across the restaurant in Hartville.
“We came out and looked at it and it had been for sale for a couple of years,” he said.
They were immediately taken by the idea of converting Hartville’s historic bar into a high-end steakhouse. And the fact that it was far away from any city of any proportion? That was just a bonus.
“They are the ones who converted it,” Harmon said. “And they ran it for about 18 months, but they had too many irons in the fire.”
So, the Harmons bought them out, and they are loving it. Scott Harmon runs the kitchen every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the restaurant and bar, cooking up some of the finest steaks in the country, and dreaming up side dishes. These include Mexican-style corn, to complement the meal with something that can’t be found anywhere else.
“I love to cook,” Harmon said. “My kids have been telling me for years that I needed to open a restaurant. So here I am.”
Christine Harmon meanwhile crafts desserts to die for, like creme brûlée, chocolate layer cake, and more recently, butterscotch bourbon cake. The creme brûlée, in particular, has been known to sell out before the night is through.
That makes this a place, where just this one time, diners may be forgiven if they want to eat dessert first.
The building the bar is in is not Wyoming’s oldest, but its bar back has been trademarked as the oldest.
The cherry wood antique was carved by five famous brewmasters, the Brunswick Brothers in Germany, in 1862. Each has immortalized their faces on this historic bar. The end of each of five wooden posts at the top of the bar has a small, fist-sized carving of a different brother’s face.
To get to Wyoming from Germany, the gigantic, floor-to-ceiling bar traveled overseas to New York, where it was put on a train to Cheyenne. Then it was taken by wagon to the Fort Laramie officer’s club, where it lived until the 1880s.
Once the fort shut down, the bar back was then taken to the Hartville Opera House, which remained open until 1941. According to accounts by old-timers who frequent the steakhouse bar, the bar back was moved to its present home after the Opera House was torn down.
“I actually had a guy come in one night — a rather elderly gentleman — and he was 5 or 6 years old when the bar moved to this location,” Harmon said. “He said it was like 1942, or 1943, somewhere in there, and he helped roll it up the street.”
The other historic piece of the steakhouse restaurant and bar is the town’s jail, located in the very back of the building. That is still there.
As locals tell the tale, any patron caught fighting at any of the town’s bars had just two choices. Continue to fight, handcuffed to a light pole near the respective bar.
Or quit fighting each other and keep on drinking — with one arm still handcuffed to the pole.
Either way, when the bars closed for the night, the handcuffed pair were all going to the town’s jail, l located behind the present-day Stockmen’s Steakhouse, to sleep it off until morning.
“So, you chose how you wanted to go into the jail,” Michael Thompson, one of the Stockmen’s Steakhouse waiters with a bent for history, told Cowboy State Daily. “At the end of the night, one bartender has a key to the jail, so he would round up the rowdies from outside each of the five bars and march them back to the jailhouse and lock them up.”
The key would then be provided to the next bartender in the morning, whose job was to release them sometime that morning.
There’s not necessarily any historical documentation for this story, it’s an anecdote the remaining townsfolk tell, Thompson said.
“Take it for what it is,” Thompson said. “But I like the story. And it kind of makes sense, because, yeah, the territorial sheriff was in Cheyenne, so if you had a problem, you weren’t going to see him for probably a week.”
While Hartville may be small, its history continues to live on in the Stockmen’s Steakhouse, with every wall devoted to it in one fashion or another. There’s a spot to immortalize the nearby company mining town of Sunrise. Another for military history. And, on the very, very back wall, boards containing brands from area ranches dominate.
Some of those brands go back to the 1880s, Harmon said.
A row of silver mugs, for those in the Miner’s Club, many of them bought by townfolk back when the restaurant was renovated.
Those aren’t available anymore, but their owners can still get their first drink at the steakhouse bar for free, as long as they keep the mug on site.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.