Bill Sniffin: A 47-Year Debt Repaid (To Me) In A Welsh Mountain Town

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes: “This small Welsh town was made famous in 1903 when Wyoming’s Buffalo Bill performed several shows in the area. Some giant redwood trees were planted there in his memory.”

Bill Sniffin

March 30, 20245 min read

Bill Sniffin lots of snow 1 16 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

This is a story about a far-away town where Buffalo Bill performed 121 years ago and where, much later, I was the recipient of a wonderful gift.

We have all heard about western hospitality. In Wyoming, we offer more of it than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

This tale is about the generosity of an old man repaying a long-ago debt. It is also my all-time favorite golf story. It occurred in the West, all right, but not in Western America. This occurred in Western Great Britain in the Welsh highlands.

Wales is the formerly independent country that is about the size of Wyoming. Its people are Celtic and very friendly.

Some of my family’s ancestors are Welsh. Their names were Bradley, Price, and Jones. During my time there in July 1987, it seemed like a good idea to visit the hometown of my forebears. My Aunt Mabel, our family’s historian, said our ancient relatives lived between “Bilth” and “Bettws” before immigrating to the United States in the 1880s.

There were many places called Bettws, which means “holy place.” The only Bilth was “Builth Wells” which had a small place named Bettws nearby.

Buith Wells

From 1986 to 1989, I was a part-time student pursuing a Masters Degree at the Centre for Journalism Studies at the University of Wales in Cardiff. I had rented a room from a well-to-do fellow student. He offered to drive to Builth Wells.

We headed up over some rugged short mountains called the Brecon Beacons. It was raining, which it does most of the time there. We marveled at a series of waterfalls. The area looked like minor version of Glacier National Park in Montana.

It was still raining when we got to Builth Wells. I found old gravestones for people named Bradley, Price, and Jones and posed next to them for photos.

This small Welsh town was famous in 1903 when Buffalo Bill performed several shows in the area. Some giant redwood trees were planted there in his memory.

At the town’s information center was a brochure about the local golf club. It seemed like a good idea to buy a golf shirt. The clubhouse was a converted 500-year old stone barn. We tried the door but couldn’t figure out how to open it. Instead of a doorknob, there was just a hole. We walked around ducking into various doorways to get out of a driving rain.

Suddenly, we were standing in the middle of a dark locker room. Four elderly men in their late 60s and 70s were in various stages of undress. They looked up in shock. They took umbrage at our barging into their dressing room.

A Golf Shirt Would Be Nice

I apologized and explained how my ancestors had come from this place. Since I was a fledgling golfer, I had thought it would be nice to buy a golf shirt that said Builth Wells on it.

“Can you tell me where your pro shop is?” I asked.

“We don’t have one,” one man abruptly answered.

“Can I buy a golf shirt?” I asked.

“No,” another man said, “you order them in advance.”

We apologized again, and said we would leave.

“No, wait,” one of the fellows, said. “We’ll meet you after we get dressed. And that door isn’t locked. Just stick your finger into the hole and lift-up. It’ll open.”

We went back to the original door and sure enough, it opened easily. A few minutes later, the four men arrived. They had played golf on that day, as they had every Thursday, raining or not.

One man, J. Ewert Davies plopped his wet sweater into my hands. “Here, take this. Don’t make a big deal out of it,” he said. I protested and tried to pay him. “Take it back to America as a souvenir from our town.”

The sweater was nearly new. It had “Builth Wells Golf Club” inscribed on it.

They ordered pints of beer all around. We pulled up chairs and talked about Wales and America. They were now a jolly bunch.

47 Years Later, A Debt Repaid

My new friend J. Ewert then told about his first experience in America.

In 1940, his ship docked in New York City. He and a fellow sailor were given an eight-hour leave. They stopped at the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel, but had little money. It didn’t matter because the people in the bar refused to let the two Welsh sailors buy a drink. They stayed there all night long with the food and drink provided by the Americans. “I never forgot that American hospitality,” Ewert said.

One of the other gents turned to me and said: “And that’s why he gave you his sweater. He’s had a guilty conscience for 47 years!”

I laughed at the joke, but decided, much like J. Ewert's experience back in 1940, I wouldn’t soon forget this gesture of hospitality– a time when he literally gave me the shirt off his back.

Bill Sniffin can be reached at:

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.