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Bars and the Summer Elk

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

We own a bar. What started out as folly has now turned into reality. In this year of madness it seems like a perfectly lucid idea to own a bar.

I have been reminiscing about some of the bars I visited in my younger days. I grew up in Casper, home of the World Famous Wonder Bar down on Second Street. In existence since 1941, it was renowned for cowboys riding their horses in the bar and some of their famous visitors.  

While filming the “Hellfighters” in 1968, John Wayne was a regular. When I was attending Casper College, we would go down for dime night, where a cup of beer was a dime. It was always a fun spot during the parade for fair and rodeo week.

Sadly, the Wonder Bar was remodeled a couple of years ago, and the great old back bar was sized down, among other changes. It has since changed hands and is now a restaurant.

I wonder how other establishments have fared. The Mayflower in Cheyenne, always a stop during Frontier Days; The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson, where you can still saddle up for a drink; The Buckhorn in Laramie, one of Laramie’s oldest; The Occidental in Buffalo and the Mint Bar in Sheridan; The Mint still is a dark shady spot on a hot day, and the Occidental is known for its Thursday night jams.

Most every little town in Wyoming has a drinking establishment of some kind that is frequented by regulars and the occasional visitor. Maybe we’ll see you soon at the Powder River Pub in Kaycee.  

I came across this story last week on social media, written by my neighbor, Hugh Turk.  I asked if I could share it, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thank you, Hugh.

Summer Elk

Many of you know the fair in Buffalo is the longest running fair in the state, dating back before Wyoming was a state. It is a long standing tradition that farmers, ranchers, gardeners and pie bakers work around the clock in the weeks leading up to the fair. Then the entire county abandons their former lives for a week at the fair.

We spent the summers on the mountain, and very rarely did we ever venture down to Buffalo to see the fair and rodeo. In the afternoon we would sit in the shade and listen to the radio as they broadcast the rodeo. The Johnson County Annual was never our tradition, but it did play a small part in our own tradition every summer.

Usually, during the Friday of the fair when the mountain was nearly deserted, Dad would take down his old Enfield 30-06, Windex the lens of the scope and spray a whisper of WD-40 on the bolt. He would also shine a flashlight down the barrel to make sure there was no wasp nest or too many dead flies. Then, in the evening, we would all pile in the old Jeep and go get an elk. 

From my earliest memories, Mom and Dad were continually after Raymon and I about how important it was to be honest, tell the truth, follow the rules and obey the law. 

After all these lectures, we just assumed whatever Mom and Dad did, involved adhering to those rules. So when they advised us that it was best not to talk about the summer elk, we knew it was somehow governed by those principles.

I don’t know what the Statute of Limitations is on getting summer elk, but I think it’s safe to tell the story now. 

By August, we had been living on canned food, fresh milk and whatever we could make with flour for quite a while, so we were all eager for fresh meat. Dad would hang the elk quarters in the Spring House and wrap them super tight with canvas tarps. In the evening, he would go down and unwrap the quarters and cut chunks of meat for the next day. Then, in the morning, he would re-wrap everything back tight.

We would not only eat elk three times a day, it seemed we even ate elk for dessert. As we got older, we came to understand Mom and Dad were summer elk outlaws, which we thought was pretty cool. We also began helping Dad with the nightly harvest of meat and the re-wrap in the morning.

The problem with leading children into dishonest and criminal pursuits is it just keeps getting worse.

Part of Dad’s meat harvesting ritual involved scraping the fly eggs off the carcass. We had ample water to wash the quarters, but it was important to maintain the dry crust to prevent the eggs from hatching.

 Dad, in a solemn voice, told us, “I’m not telling you to lie, but no good would come from Mom finding out about these fly eggs.” 

 It was very exciting to now be in the inner circle of our family criminal conspiracy. We Turk men had formed an alliance, a brotherhood even, and it green-lighted lying to Mom.

However, lying to Mom was not as easy or as rewarding as I had hoped. It was then I learned the art of misdirection that would serve me well in my life whenever avoiding a direct question was required. I don’t miss those summers of trying to eat an entire elk before it spoiled, but I sure miss those days with Mom and Dad on the mountain.

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