For the third straight summer, Buffalo, Wyoming magically transformed (with the help of one hard-working Chamber of Commerce and an incredible team of volunteers) into Durant, the Absaroka County seat, and the characters of Craig Johnson’s fictional crime series came to life as thousands of fans converged on the town of about 4,600. This is, of course, the annual Longmire Days, which occurred July 18-20, 2014.
And for the second year, many of the stars of the A&E television show based on Johnson’s series also attended and took part in the festivities. That included: Robert Taylor (Walt Longmire), Katee Sackhoff (Vic Moretti), Adam Bartley (The Ferg), Cassidy Freeman (Cady Longmire), Zahn McClarnon (Mathias), and Louanne Stephens (Ruby).
Friday, July 18th kicked off with an autograph session featuring Craig and all the actors, except Cassidy Freeman. (Editor’s Note: These are the very signatories to the poster in the comments sweepstakes below!) Fans from far and wide began lining up outside the old Clear Creek Elementary School before 7 a.m., when Craig Johnson pulled into the lot in the replica sheriff’s Bronco. The signing wouldn’t start until 9 a.m., but in the meantime, souvenirs were sold, people took pictures with the Bronco and chatted with fellow fans, and volunteers mingled throughout the crowd letting everyone know what to expect. There was an excitement in the early morning Durant air.
When the doors did open, the line moved slowly but consistently, and the exceptional organization made the wait fun. Volunteers and police officers struck up conversations as attendees snaked through a maze of crime scene tape. One volunteer from Colorado, returning for her second year, was amazed at the distances so many people traveled. She said, “Last year it was mainly people from the Wyoming I-25 Corridor.” This year, people traveled from states as far away as Florida, Ohio, and Tennessee, just to attend Longmire Days.
In an effort to keep the lines moving, fans were limited to two items they could have signed and pictures with the actors were not allowed at this event. While the objective was to keep things moving, Johnson and the actors were still able to chat briefly, shake hands, and share smiles while signing everything from posters to the shirts on people’s backs. The enthusiasm from both sides of the table was contagious. Eventually, the line had to be cut off, but another autograph session was held Saturday morning, and there were many other opportunities throughout the weekend for fans to snag autographs and pictures.
The actors participated in many of the weekend’s events and interacted excitedly with folks who’d traveled from all over to see them. Zahn McClarnon and Adam Bartley showed their athletic prowess on the softball field in the Cowboys vs. the Indians game, and Louanne Stephens produced a children’s show in Crazy Woman Square. That performance featured Buffalo-area kids acting out the pre-election party scene from the TV show. The weekend wrapped up with an incredible concert from Adam Bartley and his jazz band. Special kudos should be given to Robert Taylor as well, who made a valiant effort to attend every event.
As the doors were closing on the signing session at Clear Creek Elementary School Friday morning, a PowWow was kicking off in Crazy Woman Square. After all, a Longmire celebration simply wouldn’t be complete without the Indians.
The representatives from the Cheyenne tribe had to make a bit of a trip into Buffalo, because their reservation is further away than Johnson portrays in the books. But this didn’t deter them. Dressed in handmade, beautifully-colorful regalia, signifying tribal and familial connections and history, they danced and sang. The significance behind dances and songs was shared with the audience, and at times the audience was encouraged to join in.
There was some celebrity in this event as well. One of the dancers had not only earned the coveted Miss Cheyenne title, seen in a Season 3 episode of the same name, but she had also appeared in an episode from the show’s first season.
These devoted dancers and musicians showed off their talents and shared their tribal history during each day of the weekend festivities.
While the estimated attendance of 10,000 might have been a bit of a stretch for this year’s event, the fans were definitely in the thousands, and that didn’t seem to faze the small town of Buffalo at all.
The community as a whole embraced the celebration, posting signs in their windows, adding chalk drawings to the sidewalks, selling souvenirs, and simply welcoming all the strangers who invaded their quiet little part of the country.
To fight the heat—temps were around 90 all weekend—visitors also indulged in frozen yogurt from The Cold Dish. They could even pick up a copy of the Durant Courant to read with their morning coffee.
The Buffalo Kiwanis hosted a pancake breakfast Saturday morning, and later that day, the Model A & Pioneer Car Club of Sheridan and Johnson Counties sponsored a car show. The Clear Creek Brewing Company featured an Absaroka Ale all weekend, and other establishments put Longmire-related specials on their menus as well. In addition to the regular restaurants, food trucks were set up in Crazy Woman Square throughout the weekend, giving visitors a chance to try ribs, snow cones, Wyoming Whiskey, and gourmet hot dogs and brats (featuring elk and buffalo meat).
The Buffalo Theater took a hiatus from their regular shows to host viewings of Longmire on their big screens all day Friday and Saturday. Then, they hosted the Q&A session on Sunday. The HF Bar Guest Ranch hosted a skeet shoot, while the Paradise Guest Ranch took the reins of the Horseback Ride. The Buffalo Golf Club held a golf outing, and the Century Club was the starting point for the Acting Outlaws Poker Run. Of course, the Busy Bee was abuzz from open to close as fans experienced the diner where Walt gets his “usual.”
There was a bit of something for everyone, and it seemed like every business in Buffalo helped sponsor the weekend. Some events required registration and additional fees, but a visitor still had plenty to do without attending any extra events.
Of course, none of this would exist at all without the man who started it. Craig Johnson was a constant throughout the weekend. You could see him in the audience of the children’s show. He provided color commentary for the softball game, participated in the Q&A session, and arrived early for each autograph session to chat with the fans waiting patiently.
When there wasn’t a scheduled signing or event, you could likely find him signing and talking in the Longmire headquarters. The Johnson County Library also stopped regular operation for most of Saturday to accommodate a “So You Want to Write a Mystery” discussion and autograph session with him and Robert Taylor.
Longmire Days garnered a great deal of attention because of the celebrities in attendance, but Buffalo, Wyoming, hasn’t forgotten who gave them their alias and their beloved fictional sheriff. As Adam Bartley wrapped up the weekend with his jazz concert, he reminded the audience of exactly that, and Johnson was given a standing ovation.
What a wonderful salute to Walt Longmire and his crew; what a wonderful tribute to an amazing writer.
If you have the chance to attend a future Longmire Days, it’s well worth the trip. If not, don’t worry. Grab a copy of a Walt Longmire novel and you’ll be transported immediately.
All images used with permission of Jen Forbus.
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Jen Forbus is a book-reading, Arnold Palmer-drinking, animal-adoring, gadget-loving optimist. She not only converses with crime fans on Twitter as @crimehq, she also freelances in all areas of books and publishing, and runs the crime fiction site Jen's Book Thoughts.