MEETEETSE — There’s a lynching rope hanging from the ceiling of the Cowboy Bar in Meeteetse, Wyoming, a rope that owner Karen Ochsner will tell you, if you ask, has actually been used once upon a time.
“I’m told they actually did use it once to hang someone for horse stealing,” she said.
That rope is just one of many historical artifacts that hang from the ceilings or on the walls of the 130-year-old bar in Meeteetse that has gained a reputation as one of the most famous outlaw bars in the Cowboy State.
The rope, the historic rosewood and cherry backbar, and the dozens of bullet holes that attest to a rough and rowdy outlaw past are all for sale. Ochsner, who told Cowboy State Daily she’s ready to retire, has listed the 1893 bar for $395,000.
“To tell you truly, I enjoyed meeting all the people and interacting with the locals,” Ochsner said. “I’m going to miss it truthfully. But I just got too tired. I should have done this when I was younger.”
The back bar, Ochsner added, is probably worth more than the entire establishment on its own.
“The back bar is from 1901,” she said. “And it’s pretty beautiful, and unique, in that there is one of three that were brought up from Chicago. Well, shipped to Chicago, and then went up the river and then overland on a wagon.”
Ochsner and her husband purchased the Cowboy Bar from Jim Blake four years ago, partly out of a desire to keep the Meeteetse downtown alive and vibrant.
“My husband bought it because he wanted to help,” she said. “The Cowboy Bar and then Cafe, they’re all in line together. And it just looks depressing to have everything closed. So he bought it, and he’s still trying to revive things. We’ll get it sold and then it’ll be open again.”
A Place Full Of Stories Waiting To Be Told
The Cowboy Bar in Meeteetse can make a boast few other bars can. In each of the last three centuries it has hosted one of America’s most wanted men for a drink or three.
In the 1800s, that man was Butch Cassidy, whose real name was Robert Leroy Parker.
The story, as the bar’s previous owner Jim Blake used to tell it, involved a nasty little run-in with Meeteetse cattle baron Otto Franc.
Cassidy had committed lots of crimes such as cattle rustling and bank robberies, to name just a few. But, in this case, he was trying to do something on the up and up. That is, buy three horses.
Turns out, the horses were stolen, and, in those days, you didn’t have to know the horses were stolen to be found guilty of a crime. Just owning them was enough.
Cassidy managed to beat the first charge on one of the three horses he bought, but Franc wasn’t going to let matters rest. He wanted Cassidy in jail, and so he ordered the sheriff at the time to round him up for the theft of the second of the three horses.
Cassidy was arrested just as he was stepping out of the Cowboy Bar in Meeteetse. This time, he didn’t manage to beat the charges. He was sent to jail, and served what would ultimately be his only prolonged sentence — despite subsequent crime sprees that eventually would make him a legend.
Tarzan of The Tetons
During the 1900s, the most-wanted outlaw who enjoyed a drink in Meeteetse’s Cowboy Bar was a man named Walter Earl Durand. The reclusive young man was living the life of a mountain man during the Great Depression, when jobs were few and far between.
Those in the area knew him to be a crack shot. He lacked no ability to live off the land, but he was a loner, and socially awkward. That led to a scuffle with a gang of bullies in the Cowboy Bar, led by Arthur Argento, who threw him into the Greybull River.
Eventually, the unpopular man was sentenced to a six months of jail time related to poaching an elk, which led to the first of two manhunts.
Durand escaped his jail cell in Cody after bonking a guard named Noah Riley over the head with a bottle of milk one night. He took a rifle and forced Riley to drive Durand to his parents’ home near Powell, about 25 miles away.
Two lawmen went to the family’s farmhouse trying to get Durand to surrender peacefully. But he shot both. One man died at the scene, while the other would die shortly after at the hospital.
In the commotion, Riley escaped Durand.
By 3:30 a.m. the next day, a posse of 50 men with orders to shoot to kill had been formed to hunt Durand down. Argento was among these men.
Durand eluded authorities for an 11-day manhunt that enthralled the nation and led the Denver Post to dub him Tarzan of the Tetons.
The tragic ending to the story is one that movies and legends have yet to answer fully.
To escape for good, Durand needed money, so he had successfully stolen a car and pulled off a robbery of theFirst National Bank in Powell. This was the last place anyone would have been expecting to find him. The woods were all crawling with lawmen, certain the fugitive was on foot, hiding out in the woods. There was no one in town to catch him.
Had Durand simply left the bank then, he would have made a clean getaway. But, for whatever reason, instead of just leaving, he opened fire inside the bank.
That drew the attention of the whole town and a group of armed Powell citizens. They thought it must be some gang robbing the bank. Durand was shot during a free-for-all as he tried to leave. He crawled back into the bank, where he shot himself.
The Most Recent Outlaw
The most recent of America’s most-wanted to drink liquor at the Cowboy Bar was one Tracy Province, who walked into the bar in 2010.
As Blake tells it, Province was very curious about the bar’s outlaw history, and prompted Blake to tell him all about it a couple of nights in a row.
While he was in town, Province also reportedly attended Sunday worship services, and did some yard work for a local church as well.
In fact, it was the church service that did Province in. A parishioner recognized him and called the authorities, which led to his arrest.
In addition to escape charges, Province had also been wanted on suspicion of murdering two people in New Mexico, during what police believed was a carjacking.
Authorities took Province into custody as he was walking out of a Meeteetse Hotel, carrying a hitchhiker’s sign with the world “Casper” on it.
Province pleaded guilty to numerous crimes arising out of the carjacking and was sentenced to five consecutive terms of life in prison, without possibility of parole.
Amelia Earhart Drank Here Too
Other Famous People have also had a drink or two at the Cowboy Bar in Meeteetse, among them Amelia Earhart, who was having a cabin built for her at nearby ghost town Kirwin, right before her final, ill-fated flight.
“It’s just a neat, neat place to come,” Ochsner said of the bar. “I didn’t have a lot of loudness and stuff going on. I’m not saying they couldn’t get a little rowdy, but (the cowboys) were nice to me. They’d call me ma’am, you know, and I guess they still have their manners.”
Ochsner recalled warning a couple of patrons that they’d had enough to drink.
“I’d say, ‘Now I’ve got a son your age, and I wouldn’t want him getting drunk in here and then going out and having an accident,’” Ochsner said. “They’d say, ‘Yes ma’am. It was really unreal. So I really enjoyed meeting all of them.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.