The Virginian Hotel Has been A Wyoming And Western Icon For More Than A Century

The Virginian Hotel, inspired by the famous Owen Wister novel "The Virginian," is a Wyoming and Western Icon that’s been run by four generations of the same family for more than a century.

RJ
Renée Jean

October 29, 20239 min read

The Virginian is as iconic Western Wyoming as any place in the Cowboy State. Author Owen Wister got the idea for his famous novel of the same name while sleeping across the street, which inspired naming the hotel.
The Virginian is as iconic Western Wyoming as any place in the Cowboy State. Author Owen Wister got the idea for his famous novel of the same name while sleeping across the street, which inspired naming the hotel. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

MEDICINE BOW — If heavy snow catches you off-guard in the winter, there is a beacon of light in Medicine Bow. The historic Virginian Hotel, full of history, warmth and light, is open year-round. 

Heavy winter snow not withstanding, The Virginian is worth a trip any time of year to see a quaint hotel that once captured the imagination of famous “The Virginian” author Owen Wister and remains a testament to Wyoming’s Western roots.

In The Virginian, you’ll find many references to its namesake novel, especially its famous tag line, “If you wanna call me that — smile.” 

It’s part of a huge wall-size mural painted by artist Joan Harper of Laramie in the café. She also painted miniature portraits of various outlaws that are displayed in the hotel bar. She crafted them to look vintage, ripping off a portion of the canvas, and the rustic painting technique she used is interesting in and of itself.

The portraits are part of a bank of photos that show Medicine Bow when it was a rising star, home to the largest stockyard in the state. 

Livestock at the time were coming from Montana and Colorado on their way to places like Nebraska and Chicago.

  • Vickie Scott talks about The Virginian, which has been in the Scott family for more than 100 years.
    Vickie Scott talks about The Virginian, which has been in the Scott family for more than 100 years. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A vintage leather guest book.
    A vintage leather guest book. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Owen Wister spent the night on the countertop of this red-and-white building when it was Western Mercantile. It's where he was inspired with the idea of what would become his novel "The Virginian."
    Owen Wister spent the night on the countertop of this red-and-white building when it was Western Mercantile. It's where he was inspired with the idea of what would become his novel "The Virginian." (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Owen Wister's cabin was moved and is preserved on the grounds of the Medicine Bow Museum.
    Owen Wister's cabin was moved and is preserved on the grounds of the Medicine Bow Museum. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Owen Wister Dining Room.
    The Owen Wister Dining Room. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The kitchen turns out a great burger at The Virginian, served with handout home fries.
    The kitchen turns out a great burger at The Virginian, served with handout home fries. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Peach pie a la mode at The Virginian café.
    Peach pie a la mode at The Virginian café. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

It’s A Family Heirloom

The Virginian has one thing that’s particularly unusual even in Wyoming. It’s been in the same family for going on four generations. 

There are many fourth-generation farms in Wyoming, but where is there a fourth, and soon to be fifth-generation hotel?

Hanging in the hotel’s stairwell you’ll find a painting of the current owner’s grandmother and her sisters. It’s not just a family treasure. It’s the history of Wyoming on that wall, and it really goes to the heart and soul of what Medicine Bow’s Virginian still is today. 

“I bought the hotel from my mother,” Vernon Scott told Cowboy state Daily. “And she bought it from my grandfather. And he got it from his dad. So, it’s been in the family forever, a hundred years.”

Given that the hotel has been passed down from one family member to the next, it has many historical items, including some that date back to the opening year of the hotel. 

Vernon sees new items coming in as just more pieces of history that the hotel is accumulating over time.

“There’s stuff from 1911 here,” Vernon said. “Antiques. And there’s some newer stuff, too, dishes and stuff like that. But mainly antiques. Mostly antiques.

“It’s a historical place. All you have to do is look around and see that for yourself.”

A Place To Wander

Guests and travelers are not just welcome to walk around the hotel, they’re actively encouraged to.

“You gotta wander, honey,” Vickie Scott Cowboy State Daily not just once, but several times.

“Up there, every room has its personality,” she said, and she was right. 

Every room is decked out differently, all in period furniture. Some of it’s been donated to the hotel by locals, and the owners know all kinds of stories about each and every item.

A bed in Suite 27, for example, once belonged to Grandma Sarah.

Those bumps on its bottom rail?

Those are from when Grandma Sarah used to jump on the rail when she was just a little girl, before diving headfirst into the haven of her giant feather bed.

“A lot of things have been gifts from families that had nowhere to put them,” Vickie said. “So, they’ll come visit, whether it’s big or it’s little, like the bed or that old cowboy hat in the bar.”

About the bar, that’s where you’ll find five bullet holes from a shoot-out. Turns out someone literally shot the sheriff, just like in the song. 

It happened in The Virginian in Medicine Bow.

  • The bar at The Virginian has seen plenty of action.
    The bar at The Virginian has seen plenty of action. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • More memorabilia over the bar.
    More memorabilia over the bar. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The table is set as if waiting for Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wister and their friends to all sit down to dinner together.
    The table is set as if waiting for Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wister and their friends to all sit down to dinner together. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The café seen from above.
    The café seen from above. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A catch-all nook at the end of the bar in The Virginian.
    A catch-all nook at the end of the bar in The Virginian. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Bar seating in front of the kitchen area.
    Bar seating in front of the kitchen area. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A vintage piano flanked by luxurious antique leather chairs.
    A vintage piano flanked by luxurious antique leather chairs. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A table in a backroom with more brands from the southcentral Wyoming area.
    A table in a backroom with more brands from the southcentral Wyoming area. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A buffet and dishes in a built-in shelf in one corner of the Owen Wister Dining Room.
    A buffet and dishes in a built-in shelf in one corner of the Owen Wister Dining Room. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A back room at The Virginian with another bar that features lots of brands from the area.
    A back room at The Virginian with another bar that features lots of brands from the area. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The Owen Wister Dining Room.
    The Owen Wister Dining Room. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Why It’s Called The Virginian

The Owen Wister dining room is a treat, decorated in period fashion with fancy china and lace tablecloths, as if its ready to host Teddy Roosevelt and Wister themselves at any moment.

Vickie told Cowboy State Daily she welcomes people who want to sit in there to eat, although there are not often any takers. No one wants to disturb the spirits of history in the room. 

But for those who dare to tiptoe in, there’s all kinds of memorabilia, including a photo from Wister identifying The Virginian as his favorite hotel.

There’s a famous story about Wister that Vernon likes to tell. 

Wister had come to Medicine Bow in 1885, only to find there were no hotels and no beds to be had.

“He slept on the counter over at my grandfather’s store across the tracks over there,” Vernon told Cowboy State Daily. He pointed across the street from The Virginian at a red-and-white building that used to be called Western Mercantile.

“He got the idea for his book right over there,” Vernon said. “It’s a literary landmark.”

Wister was waiting overnight for a stagecoach to come. He really had nothing to do while he was there, lying on an uncomfortably hard countertop. So, he eavesdropped on all of the conversations about the things that were going on in Wyoming, like the Johnson County Cattle War.

Where The Famous Stay

Wister would stay in the hotel after it was completed, and he wasn’t the only famous person to pass through.

First it was stagecoaches, then it was railroads bringing people to town. Eventually, it was Highway 30.

Medicine Bow's economy was hot, prompting August Grimm and Joe Plumber to build the sandstone hotel, naming it after Wister.

Unfortunately, Grimm and Plumber ran out of money midway through. 

“All the town fathers — that is what I’ve always heard them referred to is the town fathers — they all bought a share and said, ‘By golly, we’re gonna get that open for you,’” Vickie said.

Eventually, Vernon’s grandfather bought all the other townspeople out, putting it firmly in the Scott family from then on. There are documents framed inside the hotel related to all of that, with faded ink and old-fashioned cursive handwriting little seen today.

Grimm and Plumber completed their hotel in 1911 thanks to the community’s help. That group effort, though, would define The Virginian forever more.

“The hotel is Medicine Bow,” Vernon said. “Anybody will tell you that. It was the main hub of Medicine Bow then, and it still is after 100 years.”

Over the years, lots of famous people have come to The Virginian. Roy Clark. Elvis. Buck Owens. Hank Thompson.

There are photos, and they’ve also become part of the hotel’s ongoing story.

  • Door to the Owen Wister Suite at The Virginian.
    Door to the Owen Wister Suite at The Virginian. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The hallway that leads to the Owen Wister Suite.
    The hallway that leads to the Owen Wister Suite. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • One of Owen Wister's desks is in The Virginian's Owen Wister Suite.
    One of Owen Wister's desks is in The Virginian's Owen Wister Suite. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Bed in the Owen Wister Suite.
    Bed in the Owen Wister Suite. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A clawfoot tub in the Owen Wister suite.
    A clawfoot tub in the Owen Wister suite. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A charming room heated with an old-fashioned radiator in The Virginian.
    A charming room heated with an old-fashioned radiator in The Virginian. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A gigantic mirror in the Owen Wister Dining Room.
    A gigantic mirror in the Owen Wister Dining Room. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A ballerina motif in one of the guest rooms at The Virginian.
    A ballerina motif in one of the guest rooms at The Virginian. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Wind And Tourism

Highway 30 may be a back route, but it’s still bringing The Virginian its share of visitors, Vernon said.

“A lot of people will drive U.S. 30 because it’s a historical highway, you know, the Lincoln Highway,” he said. 

The Virginian is listed as part of Wyoming’s Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR), too. 

“The dirt bikes, they’re not road bikes, but they’ve got saddlebags, and they’re prepared for whatever,” she said. “There’s a route from up by Baggs, and they go clear to Ten Sleep. We got lucky. We’re one of the spots to say, ‘Hey, we’ve been there,’ whether that’s a picture of the front or whatever.”

Vickie credits her grandson Noah for getting the hotel listed in the BDR literature.

“It’s been great,” she said. “We’ve seen brothers, old friends, and I mean they’re not young, young men. They’re you know, late 40s, 50, whatever, and they’re having an adventure.”

The Virginian fits right in for that. There’s hot food — burgers and even steaks if you want — there’s a full-blown bar, and there are plenty of rooms to stay the night, whether you’d prefer the adjacent motel rooms or something in the historic hotel itself.

Wind energy is another thing that’s helping keep The Virginian alive. Wind energy has been around the Medicine Bow area since the 1970s, Vernon told Cowboy State Daily.

New towers seem to get built about every 10 to 15 years, he added.

“They’re building 100 turbines out here at Boswell Springs, and they’re building another 80 out here on Two Rivers Ranch,” he said. “And then they tell me that out in Shirley Basin they’re going to build another 750. That’s hearsay, but, so, you know, it’s going to be an ongoing thing for quite some time.”

Vernon is glad for that, even if he has his doubts about renewables in general.

“It’s nice to have the business, I’ll say that,” he said. “It’s good for the communities. That is what I’m here for is the community, to see the community thrive. They get tax dollars from those wind turbines to be able to fix the streets and sewer and water and infrastructure of all the town. It’s a good thing.”

  • Owen Wister and Teddy Roosevelt were classmates and friends.
    Owen Wister and Teddy Roosevelt were classmates and friends. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A signed photo from Owen Wister.
    A signed photo from Owen Wister. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A framed page from the novel "The Virginian."
    A framed page from the novel "The Virginian." (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are in this photo sitting with a hunting party that includes Teddy Roosevelt.
    Outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are in this photo sitting with a hunting party that includes Teddy Roosevelt. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Klondike Kate's gun is under glass in the Owen Wister Dining Room at The Virginian.
    Klondike Kate's gun is under glass in the Owen Wister Dining Room at The Virginian. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • There are lots of stuffed taxidermy animals at The Virginian. This one seems to always be watching.
    There are lots of stuffed taxidermy animals at The Virginian. This one seems to always be watching. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • "The Virginian" was made into both a classic film and TV series, and actors from the productions are featured in these portraits.
    "The Virginian" was made into both a classic film and TV series, and actors from the productions are featured in these portraits. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The hotel had a system in every room that guests used to alert bellhops that they needed help with their bags.
    The hotel had a system in every room that guests used to alert bellhops that they needed help with their bags. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Photos taken near Rawlins during Carbon County's 1876 boom.
    Photos taken near Rawlins during Carbon County's 1876 boom. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Old books are scattered on bedside tables throughout the hotel.
    Old books are scattered on bedside tables throughout the hotel. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Joan Harper painted portraits of famous outlaws that are displayed in The Virginian's saloon.
    Joan Harper painted portraits of famous outlaws that are displayed in The Virginian's saloon. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • An outlaw wall features portraits of notorious Western people.
    An outlaw wall features portraits of notorious Western people. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A photo that shows the bar as it used to look at The Virginian under another signed by legendary NFL football coach and analyst John Madden.
    A photo that shows the bar as it used to look at The Virginian under another signed by legendary NFL football coach and analyst John Madden. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A large painting in the stairwell shows Scott family members about to enjoy wine while playing cards.
    A large painting in the stairwell shows Scott family members about to enjoy wine while playing cards. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)
  • A large mural depicts scenes from the iconic Western nova "The Virginian."
    A large mural depicts scenes from the iconic Western nova "The Virginian." (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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RJ

Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter