A single star gleamed above the the Big Horn Mountains as the last light of sunset faded in the west. To the north, in Montana, orange lightning flickered in the thunderheads. From the town in the valley below came the sound of a slow moving freight train. The train, a rustling wind and an occasional passing car were the only sounds I heard as I sat outside my hotel looking down on the lights of Sheridan on my last night in Wyoming.
Let’s forget for the moment that Sheridan is named for a man who condoned the killing of women and children and who believed the best way to control the Plains Indians was to exterminate the American buffalo. General Philip Sheridan was hailed as a hero in his time. Today he would likely be prosecuted as a war criminal.
But no matter. The past is the past. Today’s Sheridan is a delightful town of 17,500 people, and they know they have a good thing going. Whenever you compliment one of the residents on their pleasant little city they say, “Thank you. Please don’t tell anyone.” I met a man from Denver who called Sheridan an “undiscovered jewel”. He was so enthralled with the town he has decided to move there, exactly the kind of behavior the locals would like to discourage.
I took my co-worker Jason to the Mint Bar on Main Street, but he seemed more interested in a television program about slow-witted men who catch alligators with their hands than he was in the intricate carvings, the polished woodwork or the hundreds of Western photographs, many of them decades old, that covered the walls. Nor did he seem to notice that the bar is a shrine to the craft of taxidermy. The bartender put it best when she told a tourist from Scotland, “We have a lot of dead things in here.” Indeed.
The Sheridan Inn is undoubtedly the most famous building in town. It has hosted presidents and other dignitaries. And of course it could not be considered truly historic had not Buffalo Bill Cody slept there, which he did. It seems like Buffalo Bill slept everywhere in the West at least once. The man definitely got around. Unfortunately for the Sheridan Inn, economics have forced the current owners to close temporarily.
Before Sheridan was a town, the valley was a staging area for U.S. forces sent to wage war on the tribes of the Great Plains. George Armstrong Custer was dispatched to his maker just seventy miles to the northwest, on the grassy hills above the Little Bighorn River.
After their embarrassing success against Custer, the Sioux retreated into the Big Horn Mountains, which they believe are sacred. They knew the full wrath of the Great Father in Washington would rain down on them, as he would not be pleased with their shenanigans on the Little Bighorn. They were prescient. After about a year of being relentlessly hounded and starved, the last of them agreed to “come in” and live on the reservations.
Sheridan has a large number of statues for such a small town. Most have Western themes, but some of them make you scratch your head, like the full-sized rhinoceros just up the street from the Bozeman Scout. Art is art, I suppose, even if I don’t get it.