A fire broke out on Wednesday, Dec. 11 causing extensive damage to The Little Cowboy Bar in Fromberg.
“It broke out some time before noon,” said Diane Dalin, owner of the Two Bear Bar across the street. “People saw smoke coming out. No one was in it; it hadn’t opened yet.”
It is the end of an era. Shirley Smith owned the bar since 1972 and just sold it last year Randy Wilke, an Alaskan oil field worker. Esquire Magazine listed the bar in 2007, as the Best Bar in Montana. Way in the back was a unique collection of rodeo memorabilia, strange bugs and animals, buffalo skulls and heads as well as historical, geological, cowboy and Native American items.
Behind the bar was a beautiful portrait of Shirley reminiscent of her glory days as a rodeo queen. Some of the relics were hard to identify-dinosaur teeth? Shark? The museum always entertained. The bar oozed character and cowboys. It was the wild, wild West and you were sure to get a story when Shirley was behind the bar. She might pull out her large volume of news clippings and scrapbook of past local events.
There was the story of the Little People, spirit helpers of the Crow Tribe residing in the Pryors and how they stopped the railroad from coming through their sacred mountains by throwing so many rocks at workers that employees refused to work on the tracks. Shirley always had great ghost stories, such as the traveler who stopped in the bar on his way to Wyoming one night in a blizzard. Her husband later described the man and vehicle that pulled him out of deep snow hundreds of miles away that night-and described the same man, the same truck. She felt a former owner frequented the place and that he was friendly.
Local pubs in Montana, especially in winter, are more than watering holes; they are community. The bar is part of the history of this western town and was a friendly hangout before and after parades and many social occasions. It was a local institution like the market across the street that was run for 26 years by Mareita Palmersheim, now closed. At days end, her daughter Julie said, her mother would close the store and walk across the street to meet her husband Bob at The Little Cowboy Bar and discuss their day.
Shirley would hold court to all newcomers, making them feel welcome. The Old Cowboy Bar will be missed: it was a piece of old Montana that only a fire could tame.
Fromberg Fire Department were on scene as well as Bridger Police.
All photos by Penny Carter. For more photos please click here .