52 Pick-up 2.0, #1, 1/14/20
Here we go again! The re-boot (see what I did there?) of the wildly popular “52 Pick-Up” is now ready for your enjoyment! Read slowly, because we’ll only have one installment per week…
Week 1 – “Islands In The Stream”
“Robert Lang: Craig has mentioned the inspiration for many of the characters. We know there is a real Busy Bee. How close are the descriptions to the original? Is there an inspiration for the Red Pony and the White Buffalo cafe?”
Hmm… It’s interesting that your questions seem to center around the eating establishments, so maybe your interests coincide with mine. Yep, when I decided to use Buffalo as the template for Durant, mostly because it’s only twenty miles from my ranch and it’s a picturesque little place (even though it is just not quite small enough, so that I had to cut the population in half), I decided to try and keep as much of the place undisturbed as possible even though I had decided to change the names of the town and county. One time I ran into a young lady from the Wyoming Office of Tourism, and she said the folks at the office enjoy my books from a practical standpoint, because even with a fictitious location, I don’t change the names of the street, trails, or major landmarks. She said that that way, when people write or call them and want to go to the Wyoming locations in the books, they’re pretty easy to find.
But I’ll tell you one of the difficulties that arose and still arise is that when you’ve been writing for more than a decade and a half, the world you write about changes!
The Busy Bee in the books is actually based on the floorplan of the original Busy Bee that closed the year before The Cold Dish, the first book in the Longmire series, was published back in 2005. At that point, the building had been condemned and subsequentially torn down, but when people started showing up in Buffalo and asking where the café might be, Dave Stewart, the owner of the Occidental Hotel and something of an entrepreneurial genius, figured he needed a breakfast place for his hotel and enough people had been asking about the Bee that he decided to resurrect it. The new Bee is actually quite a bit nicer than the original, but I’d already started the Longmire series, so I was stuck with the old one.
On another note, when the original place was shut down, they auctioned off all the furnishings–I got one of the stools and the original sign, which I’ve loaned to Dave and which now hangs in the new Bee. I bought it for $20 because it was chained to a trailer and everybody thought it was too heavy to buy and haul out of there…
The Red Pony Bar & Grill is a little bit of a sadder story–it was based on the Ewe-Turn Inn in my tiny town of Ucross, but it got a little rundown and one day the Ucross Foundation, who owned the land, ran a bulldozer through it… I’m not kidding, one day it was there and the next day it wasn’t. The saddest part about that was the loss of intellectual cross-pollination between the artists who were there in residence and the ranchers and cowboys who lived there. It wasn’t unusual to walk in and see a local cowboy sitting next to a Scottish artist discussing modern sculpture. I miss those days, and every once in a while, I threaten to go find a liquor license and open up a real Red Pony Bar & Grill. That’s usually when my wife threatens to leave me, and I clam up—the idea of being a divorced man in Ucross, Wyoming (population 25) is more than a little sobering.
The White Buffalo Café is drawn from a couple of places–the Lame Deer Trading Post on the Cheyenne Reservation, The Custer Trading Post on the Crow Reservation, and Big Bat’s Gas Station over on the Lakota Reservation in South Dakota. It’s amazing to me how these places on the Rez transmogrify into what people need. Both places have all the things you’d expect, but they also have clothing, craft supplies, works from local artisans and some pretty great food.
As an addendum, while doing research for the next book, The Next To Last Stand, I spent a lot of time up near the battlefield and was almost killed trying to eat the Big Crow Indian Taco…
See you on the trail,