Today, I want to tell y’all about my favorite haunted hotel in the Cowboy State. The Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, WY is a time capsule and museum to those who made it great, and some of those men and women continue into the afterlife with their love for the hotel.
The Occidental was one of the first permanent buildings in the wild, western town of Buffalo, built in 1880, before the Wyoming territory had even become a state. With the bighorn mountains in the background of the city, the Bozeman Trail came through the town and made the Occidental a common home away from home of those traveling through the states on their way to homesteads and prosperity. Like many other hotels in the region, Buffalo Bill Cody was a frequent visitor as he traveled the west with his Wild West show.
Calamity Jane from Deadwood fame made her way through the trails and trains to stay at the Occidental, with other western legends like Annie Oakley, Teddy Roosevelt and the author of the first Western novel, Owen Wister. In fact, a legend says that the big gun fight he wrote about in The Virginian was based on an altercation he’d seen out the window of his suite in the hotel. Even outlaws laid their heads down at the Occidental as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid made their way from the nearby hole in the wall hideout. It’s only a few short miles between the town of Buffalo and Kaycee. The saloon downstairs has just as much history and its fair share of wild legends, including supplying spirits to lawmen and outlaws as they passed through the bustling town.
The hotel itself is striking, a flat facade with the hotel’s name written across the gabled ledge of the hotel. The Clear Creek runs directly next to the hotel and across the way is a large park that serves as the location for farmers markets and local events. The breakfast joint downstairs, the Busy Bee, was a favorite haunt of the author Craig Johnson as he wrote the Longmire Mystery Novels that would eventually be adapted into the TV show, Longmire.
Every year in the summer, the town of Buffalo temporarily becomes Durant, Wyoming, the fictional town in the Longmire mythos that the characters lived and worked in. Celebrities from Hollywood made the Occidental their temporary home as they came to visit for the festivities.
The haunting stories of the Occidental begin during the great depression, when the economic situation in Wyoming changed drastically and led to the disrepair and squalor of the once luxurious hotel. By the late 1930s, the hotel was a forgotten afterthought of a town struggling to keep their head above water. It wasn’t until 1997 that a new proprietor, Dawn Dawson, who headed a massive renovation effort to reopen and offer the same accommodations and wild west charm that it was known for.
The hotel is a magnificent one after the renovations, giving the charm of the old west with luxurious accommodations that make you feel like you’re right back in the wild days of the saloon and hotel. It’s been named the “Best Hotel in the West,” and there’s good reason for that, with elegant fixtures and antiques throughout the hotel. Like many historic hotels, the doors to the suites are open but blocked off by a rope to allow guests to view and experience the other rooms than just the one they’re staying in. Each suite has its own theme and each room has its own personality as well.
Such rooms are named for the infamous Hole in the Wall gang, another named for the author, Owen Wister, who stayed at the hotel while writing his great masterworks about cow hands and outlaws. Another suite is named for Ernest Hemmingway, another legend saying he stopped in the Occidental while traveling Wyoming and the surrounding areas.
They say haunting stories were common during the renovation, with one contractor claiming to have seen a little girl in a night dress standing in part of the hotel that was mid-way through demolition. Scared that a young girl had wandered into a construction site, he followed her across 2x4s and concrete, but she disappeared as soon as he rounded the corner. Other contractors claimed to have heard the sound of spurs on the back stairs.
Back in the day, the suite now known as the Bordello suite lived up to its name, being a brothel for part of the wild west history of the hotel. The back stairs still show the gouges and scratches left behind by cowboys taking them to pay their tokens for female companionship in the lonely west. A hostess at the hotel once told me about one winter she stayed as the caretaker and her experience of seeing one of those cowboys, silently walking from the back stairs into the bordello room. Another room, the hole in the wall room, is said to bring more apparitions of cowboys, standing against the stone wall and disappearing after being glimpsed once by guests.
The most famous of the ghosts of the Occidental, however, is a young girl named Emily. The legend goes that Emily was a daughter of one of the prostitutes that worked in the brothel, and in the early 1910s, she passed away after a long battle with cholera, an unfortunately common story in the west. Emily is the girl in the nightgown that defied the construction to make herself known. Emily is said to be a prankster, her favorite expression being her tugging on an unsuspecting guest’s shirt, as if to get their attention like a child is aptt to do. After a quick glimpse, she again disappears, sometimes with a mischievous smile.
Finally the specter that roams the halls is that of the former lady of the house known as Margaret, a tall and imposing figure whose vintage clothes are displayed in the hallways on mannequins as if in a living museum. Dressed in Victorian garb, some guests have reported seeing her floating down the hallway, as if she were patrolling to make sure guests were well-taken care of.
The lights of the hotel’s hallways go out between 9pm and 10pm, officially lights out in the hotel, but the darkness only makes the hotel feel more eerie, especially when walking to attend one of the bathrooms down the hall. Each suite has its own bathroom and sleeping quarters, but walking through the hallways with lavishly dressed mannequins and only your phone for a flashlight, your eyes can play tricks on you. You might see Margaret, or Emily, or even a cowboy whose clothes seem just a little too outdated to be a living one.
Staying at the Occidental, if you can, is highly recommended. The history alone makes the Occidental my favorite of all of the haunted hotels I’ve stayed in throughout the years. The staff is so friendly and willing to help, and most of the ghost stories I gained from my visit came from staff members and their eerie experiences while working in the hotel. Today, the Occidental offers 14 suites they currently rent out with vintage accommodations and modern comforts. Stay a while, and see if you can stay in the Bordello overnight, or experience the night time visit of the occasional ghostly cowboy.
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Born in Death Valley and raised on the prairie, Deborah is a Wyoming-based paranormal researcher and a senior at the University of Wyoming, studying Communication. Her interests lie in folklore, history, rhetorical analysis and research. With an obvious love for ghost stories, frequently those interests combine with her work on Ghostlandia.