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That Night When Gretel Ehrlich And A Jackass Moseyed Into The Cowboy Bar

Dewey Vanderhoff of Cody was a bartender in Meeteetse's famous local watering hole. And then things got Western

Things turned real western after the donkey was led into Meteetse’s Cowboy Bar and the saloon keeper was there with camera ready. Left to right: Gretel Ehrlich, Jack Nicholson, Ray Winsor, unidentified woman, kidnapped jackass, Dan Taylor, and a woman named Carol. Photo courtesy Dewey Vanderhoff
Things turned real western after the donkey was led into Meteetse’s Cowboy Bar and the saloon keeper was there with camera ready. Left to right: Gretel Ehrlich, Jack Nicholson, Ray Winsor, unidentified woman, kidnapped jackass, Dan Taylor, and a woman named Carol. Photo courtesy Dewey Vanderhoff
The Cowboy Bar in the tiny ranching and oil town of Meeteetse, Wyoming is so venerable it has a slogan, “
Where Everyone Meets In Meeteetse”, that is known far and wide.  And, being the night bartender at that watering hole of western culture during the last oil boom in Wyoming, I met people all the time.

One instance really stands out, though, and it involved.Gretel Ehrlich, the author would go on to be called “Wyoming’s Walt Whitman”.  

Gretel received her degrees from Bennington and the UCLA Film School.  After a stint as a documentary filmmaker, she would go on to pen her defining New West classic, “The Solace of Open Spaces ”, publish essays in The New Yorker and literary journals, and the novel Heart Mountain among other memoirs, travel pieces, anthologies, and poetry.  All of  which carried her to the top of the literary field in America in the 1980’s; and most of them written from her Wyoming venue.

That brisk March night at the Cowboy Bar, Ms. Ehrlich was introduced to me by our mutual friend Lana as a sheepherder living in a wagon up near Carter Mountain. It was enough to want to have the next grazing allotment over, for Gretel was mighty cute, if quiet. Like most winter herders, she didn’t get to town much. Worth the wait, though.

One thing about the menfolk of Meeteetse: they are all cowboys at heart, even if most of them work the oil patch to support their habit. And, being of cowboy stock, they will go out of their way to, as they say, impress a lady. I should have known something was up when Dan and Ray suddenly vanished, drinks in hand, after an hour of sweet-talking the two women.
The heavy door swang open and Dan Taylor appeared, half hunkered and lugging a yellow rope over his shoulder, with some resistance. Then came the head of a donkey, the front feet, torso, and finally the ass of the beast
The heavy door swang open and Dan Taylor appeared, half hunkered and lugging a yellow rope over his shoulder, with some resistance. Then came the head of a donkey, the front feet, torso, and finally the ass of the beast, being pushed by Ray Winsor against the donkey’s desires. What before was courtship was now vaudeville.

The men were thoughtful enough to have brought a bale of hay for our 4-footed guest of honor, and the 2-legged guests of honor were impressed.

Much mirth and Meeteetse male virility were displayed for the coming hours. I had a good till that evening. It was real western, I suppose.

At 12:30 am the drilling rig hands made their entrance like clockwork. A crew of four on their way home to Thermopolis stopped in for schnappes and a 12-pack, and strode through the door only to stack up like Keystone Cops on the unseen ass of a donkey planted beneath their visage. They worked their way in, and I set ‘em up while sacking the beer.
The donkey finally had all he could take. He spread his back legs, planted them solid akimbo, and let fly....
The donkey finally had all he could take. He spread his back legs, planted them solid akimbo, and let fly three gallons or more of whiz. The crew got drenched in it, up to their knees. Drinks on the house.

Gretel and Lana were very impressed.

And I did not have to swamp the bar that night with a mop...Ray and Dan got supervised janitor duty. The next day the owner, merry old Margaret Todd, complimented me on leaving a nice clean bar for her to come to work at 8am. I had to say it: “There were some real jackasses in the place last night...”

About Dewey Vanderhoff

Dewey Vanderhoff grew up in the town founded by William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody just beyond the east entrance of Yellowstone. Sharp-witted and a true raconteur, Vanderhoff has distinguished himself as a professional photographer and occasional newspaperman.  He calls things as he sees them and in a community known for its conservative politics, many have described him as fearless.
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