Owen Wister, Observer of Western Life
The Owen Wister Cabin next to the Medicine Bow Museum honors the life of Owen Wister (1860-1938), the author of The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, which was published in 1902 and became a bestselling book. About sixty years later, it inspired a television series that can still be found on a classic television shows network, YouTube, or public library collections.
How He Became a Writer
Owen Wister was originally from Philadelphia, graduated from Harvard, and later lived in Wyoming. He applied his observations of people in the West and his imagination to create lasting stories.
“Wyoming enchanted the polished, cosmopolitan Wister with the stark beauty of its arid plains, its raw, half-civilized newness, and especially its population of profane, whiskey-soaked, pistol-wearing ranch hands, gamblers, stage drivers, and cavalry troopers. In 1891 he began to write stories and sketches of western life and for the next 15 years spent nearly every summer living on ranches, in cow camps, and at cavalry outposts, gathering material. What Wister wrote was fiction, but he didn’t make much up, sticking close to events he had heard of or seen.” — https://harvardmagazine.com/2002/07/owen-wister.html
According to https://www.wyomingcarboncounty.com: “Wister came to Medicine Bow with the owner of the ranch. As there were no rooms available, he slept on the counter of the General Store, south of the tracks, now known as the Owen Wister General Store. Wister made several trips West, and the names and events over a period of the next 15 years were kept in a series of diaries… ‘The Virginian’ was the first Western ever written. It brought world wide recognition to Medicine Bow and made famous the phrase ‘When you call me that, smile.’ The T.V. show, ‘The Virginian’ was introduced in the 1962-63 season, and was based on Wister’s book.”
Read more about him at https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/owen-wister-inventor-good-guy-cowboy.
Stars of the Television Series
James Drury originated the part of “The Virginian” as the lead actor on the television series, which also featured numerous popular guest stars of the era and young up-and-comers, including Charles Bronson, Bette Davis, Angie Dickinson, Harrison Ford, George Kennedy, Lee Marvin, Ricardo Montalban, Robert Redford, Telly Savalas, William Shatner, and Raquel Welch.
Tiny Medicine Bow is less than four square miles and has a minuscule population, though it’s around twice as many residents as when The Virginian was first published.
On the Path
This is the second stop on our Wyoming Author Adventures Trail.