Longmire fans flocked to Buffalo, Wyo., to meet the cast
August 17, 2018
Craig Johnson isn't originally from Wyoming but jokes that he got to the state as quickly as he could. The author of the popular Walt Longmire novels, the inspiration for the television series Longmire, operated a small cow calf operation that is now primarily horses and a few less than elusive wild turkeys to accommodate his busy appearance schedule.
"I found my little spot here when I was delivering horses down out of Montana when I was in my 20s," he said. "It's where Clear and Piney Creeks run together at the base of the Bighorn Mountains."
Johnson said when he saw it, he thought that he would build his ranch if he ever had the chance. He did build it, by hand, and can point out the mistakes that are so often the signature of the hand build. He now makes his home in Ucross, Wyo., outside of Buffalo, which is the model for the book's setting of fictitious Durant, Wyo., in Absaroka County.
"I kind of live in Walt's world," he said.
Johnson just completed Longmire Days in Buffalo. He said the cast of the show and 20,000 of their closest friends come to Buffalo, typically a town of about 4,000. The weekend event included a parade, autograph sessions, a benefit ride, a 5K walk/run, a softball game, homerun derby, pub crawl and concerts.
Johnson's books featuring the sheriff have been on the New York Times' Bestsellers List for 10 years and have been translated into 14 different languages.
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The appeal, he said of Walt Longmire lies in his decency.
"Walt is decent," he said. "He's kind, he's smart, he's tough, but the word decent always comes to mind. It seems to have lost some of its impact in the modern world."
Johnson's character is representative of the code that rules the West and that, he said, is likely why he's been so popular and so many people can relate to him. When Johnson initially began talks with the producers of the television series, he asked why they chose Walt Longmire and his rural life for such a project.
"Greer Shephard, who was the producer for the TV show, she looked at me and said, 'we've kind of had this anti-hero thing going in America since the 1960s and it just seems like maybe the American society is ready for a real blue ribbon guy.'"
He describes the Walt Longmire of the books as the type of man "who covers the ground he stands on" and he said they must have been right.
The biggest difference between the TV show and the book versions of Walt Longmire, he said, is the book version is "over."
"He's overaged, overweight, overstressed but he still gets up in the morning and tries to do the job," he said. "To me, that's true heroism as opposed to the comic version of 6-foot-2 of twisted steel and sex appeal. I like that every man kind of guy."
GETTING IT DONE
It's those types of men and women, he said, who are the ones getting the job done, especially in rural America where many of the show's fans reside. The ethic of ranching is the same ethic Johnson approaches writing with, his day beginning with seasonal chores and coffee and his writing broken up by physical tasks completed with his hands to allow him to be productive in all areas of his day.
"The reasons I enjoy the writing process are hopefully the same reasons readers enjoy the reading process in the sense that I enjoy this world," he said. "I enjoy these characters."
The series began with a single novel, "The Cold Dish," and he said the idea of a series at the publisher's behest was daunting. Johnson collects small town newspapers as part of his research and inspiration, and to keep the stories grounded in the small town feel that he said makes them popular.
"It keeps Walt grounded in a reality of what Western sheriffs deal with," he said. "I don't ever want to write the book where Walt is on a cruise ship or Walt is on a skateboard or something like that. I want Walt dealing with the things rural sheriffs deal with."
The job of a rural sheriff, he said, is tough enough and interesting enough that he can stick to what they actually do in the course of a day. His file of newspapers is thick, and he said he'll likely die before he has the chance to write all of the stories Walt has to tell.
Interviews, talks, and ride alongs with rural sheriffs are part of his research process as well and result in outrageous, often hilarious stories.
"Inevitably, people will write me and say that the story at the beginning of "Junkyard Dogs" couldn't possibly have happened and I can tell them, 'let me introduce you to Sheriff Pickering of Big Horn County, Mont., who has actually had this happen to him'."
The rural areas, especially in Wyoming, possess a harkening back to what he calls a gentler time that people respond to. While his overseas readers picture the Rocky Mountain West as a place where an "every man for himself" mentality presides, he said it's the opposite. He appreciates rural communities and the people who live within them for their sense of community and cooperation, something he said is particularly apparent during branding times on the ranch or hard times.
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Paislee Stevens, 8, a ranch-raised fan from Buffalo, Wyo., counts herself among one of Longmire's biggest fans and is the self-proclaimed No. 1 fan under 9.
Her trip to Longmire Days included a visit with the cast members in attendance including Robert Taylor (Walt Longmire), Adam Bartley (Deputy Ferguson), Bailey Chase (Branch Connally), Louanne Stephens (Ruby), A Martinez (Jacob Nighthorse), and Zahn McClarnon (Officer Mathias). The event draws large crowds from out of town, making it challenging for local fans to secure tickets. So much so, in fact, that her mom, Heidi, set her alarm to jump online at 8 a.m. to be among the first to purchase tickets for the autograph sessions. The family counts Adam Bartley among their favorite cast members and said he hosted a Poker Run to benefit a local animal shelter that was successful.
The family began watching Longmire when they lived in Elko, Nev., because Heidi, who is originally from Buffalo, said it reminded them of home.
She is the daughter of Andy and Heidi Stevens who run a commercial cow calf operation in Johnson County. The ranch stretches east of Buffalo toward the Powder River and Paislee is the sixth generation on the family operation. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 392-4410.