In July of 2006, my wife and I were returning from a vacation out west. We stopped overnight at Billings, Montana, and traveled south into Wyoming the next day. We followed the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River towards Cody, Wyoming. We cut across country to the Shoshone River and stopped at Cody to visit the Buffalo Bill Museum.
I learned that the annual meeting of The Western Writers of America was in progress in Cody. They had set up a meet-the-authors book signing room at the museum. Looking over the room of tables, I spotted Texan Elmer Kelton, one of my favorite Agricultural Journalist/Western Authors.
I introduced myself and bought a book, which he signed. We visited awhile and learned that some of our ancestors left tracks across the same general area of Texas. Mine of course, wandered on into New Mexico. Sadly, Mr. Kelton passed on a few years later. He was, as they say, a gentleman and a scholar, but most of all he was the real thing. It was an honor just to sit and talk to him for a few minutes.
Of course the motels were full up in Cody. Calling around, we found a room at Worland. We left Cody and journeyed across the grassland country southeast of Cody. We watched the landscape for antelope and other wild critters. We observed plenty of sheep and cattle and fields of alfalfa. Suddenly, just as we passed it I spied a large antelope standing stoically in a fence-corner next to the road. I braked hoping for a picture. Glancing in my rear view mirror, I saw it cross the road behind us. It was road-smart and was long gone by the time I stopped.
By the time we reached the small town of Meeteetse it was time for a gasoline and restroom break. I pulled into an old-fashioned corner service station turned modern day convenience store. As I went inside to pay the young man behind the counter for the gasoline, I spied a row of caps on a shelf. They were the out-of-style high crown sign board type. Now that is my kind of cap and I just had to have one. They all had the same logo, a strange looking little masked varmint wearing a kerchief and a cowboy hat. I picked one and brought it to the cash register.
“What kind of animal is that?” I asked the young man behind the counter.
“It is a black-footed ferret,” he replied. “There is a story behind the cap. The black-footed ferret was thought to be extinct. One day my grandparents’ dog brought a dead one in and left it on their doorstep. My grandfather, noting it was a different looking little feller, took it to a local taxidermist. The taxidermist recognized it as being an important find and called in the Wildlife people.
“They conducted a local search and found the colony. The US Fish and Wildlife people captured several animals from the colony and are using those animals to raise enough in captivity to start new colonies in the wild.”
It is one of my favorite caps. I wear it and remember Meeteetse, a friendly little town with a story to tell. Meeteetse is approximately halfway between Cody and Thermopolis. It is beautiful country where the grasslands of northern Wyoming touch the mountains. A tip of my cap to Meeteetse, Wyoming.
Best wishes from the Sundown Trail.
Some interesting facts about Meeteetse and its informal mascot:
1. The name of the town is a Native American word meaning, “a meeting place”.
2. The town is also known far and wide for its gourmet chocolate.
3. Saddle bronc rider Tim Kellogg was needing money to buy a new saddle and decided to manufacture and sell chocolate to earn some funds. He still makes and markets chocolate goodies.
4. The black-footed ferret’s main food is prairie dogs.
5. The ferret’s population declined as the number of prairie dogs started to decline.
6. A disease named sylvalic plague was thought to have wiped the black-footed ferret out.
7. The surviving colony was found at Meeteese in 1981.
8. New colonies have been established again in eight western states.