Fictional sheriff’s fans pack Buffalo for Longmire Days

BUFFALO, Wyo.—The no-nonsense team captain and accomplished actor raised a pertinent question before the coin flip to determine the home team for this year’s Longmire Days celebrity softball game.

A Martinez, the actor who plays Jacob Nighthorse in the Netflix series “Longmire” (and who spells his name like that—“A Martinez”), is proud of his Native American heritage and wondered why it wasn’t obvious that his team in the “Cowboys vs. Indians” contest would be the home team. After all, Indians were here first.

Hoots, howls, cheers and laughter from fans in the grandstand and broadcasters in the makeshift radio booth greeted Martinez and his co-star and Cowboys captain Adam Bartley (aka Deputy Jim “The Ferg” Ferguson) as the coin flip went ahead as planned.

Fittingly, the Indians won the coin toss and home-field advantage, but lost the game 11-9. The big winner? Fans and the American Indian College Fund, the charity of choice for the three-day Longmire festival, which marked its sixth year this weekend.

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Craig Johnson, who lives outside Buffalo, was one of the announcers for the big Friday night game, broadcasting on radio and to those gathered at Frank Prosinski Park. But he’s not known for his softball play-by-play.

He’s the best-selling author of the Longmire Mystery series that inspired the “Longmire” TV drama. He lives in Ucross, a community of about 25 residents 18 miles northeast of Buffalo. His Longmire books are based in the fictional town of Durant, Wyo., in Absaroka County. But the world of Buffalo, county seat of Johnson County, clearly runs throughout the series he’s been writing for 13 years.

The first Longmire Days in 2012 was a modest, two-day celebration of community, an attempt to leverage the show’s emergence to bring folks from the town and the region to downtown Buffalo. As the fan base for the show grew, first on A&E for two seasons and then on Netflix, so did Longmire Days.

Veteran actor Robert Taylor, who plays Sheriff Walt Longmire, other actors, members of the production crew and author Johnson worked the festival into their schedules in 2013 and kept coming back.

In Buffalo, full schedules greet them. There are hours-long autograph sessions, rodeos, parades, celebrity softball games, book signings, Q&A panels on the show and how to write a best-seller, poker schools, pub crawls, motorcycle poker runs, talent shows, street dances, music jams and lots of Rainier beer (Sheriff Longmire’s drink of choice).

This year’s Longmire Days collided with the 13th annual Big Horn Mountain Festival, a three-day gathering of musicians and fans of bluegrass, folk, gospel and old-time string band music. That may have made both events bigger than ever.

Buffalo Chamber of Commerce officials expected 15,000-20,000 visitors to descend on the town of 4,500, much to the delight of local hotels, restaurants, shops and dozens of traveling vendors.

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In New Mexico, production of the sixth and final season of “Longmire” concluded just before the Fourth of July, allowing Taylor and Bartley travel to Cody in time to lead its Fourth of July parade. Then on to Buffalo.

Fam

Steve Prosinski

Missy Gibbs and son Grayson, 5, are beaming after meeting Sheriff Walt Longmire (actor Robert Taylor) and other cast members during Friday’s autograph session in Buffalo.Their family flew in from Tomball, Texas, for the three-day festival.

In Buffalo, members of the cast and crew said that sets in Las Vegas and other New Mexico communities were not being dismantled, but were put in storage instead. That suggests “Longmire” may live on in the movies, they say.

Chamber officials say Longmire Days will continue as long as interest is strong, and they are optimistic. There’s a lot to keep up their hopes.

Some “Longmire” actors have vowed to return to the party if their schedules allow. Season 6 episodes debut on Netflix this fall. The open talk of movies brought cheers from fans. Johnson’s new novel, “The Western Star,” goes on sale in September. “Longmire” is not going away quietly.

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The Buffalo High School gymnasium, occupancy rating of 868, had few open seats for Friday’s Q&A panel featuring “Longmire” celebrities.

In the lineup were actors Taylor, Martinez, Bartley, Zahn McClarnon (aka reservation police chief Mathias), Louanne Stephens (Ruby, the sheriff’s secretary), John Bishop (town drunk Bob Barnes) and Bailey Chase (Deputy Branch Connally, who was shot and killed by his father at the end of Season 3, but sure didn’t stop coming to Longmire Days).

Members of the directing and production crew rounded out the panel, including the professional in charge of making the fake blood used in some of the more gruesome scenes. She handed out sample jars to a few fans in the audience.

During the gym event, Chase was introduced to Branch Hardy, the 1-year-old son of Kacee and Thayne Hardy of Gillette. Little Branch was named for the “Longmire” character.

In real life, Chase is now a father of three and had his own event on Saturday at which he spoke of his spiritual journey in two decades as an actor, and his new book, “The Spiritual Gangsta: The Search for Truth.”

Taylor

Steve Prosinski

Two young Longmire fans get a keepsake selfie with help from actor Robert Taylor.

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While the “Longmire” cast and crew members were entertaining more than 600 fans at the high school gym, Johnson and the publishing professionals he’s worked with were sharing secrets with a smaller crowd sitting downtown in the shade along Clear Creek.

In the back yard of the historic (and haunted) Occidental Hotel, Johnson and others talked about the persistence, talent and luck needed to produce a best-selling novel. He says he’s planning to keep writing about Durant and its people for years to come.

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Three full-time staff members at the Chamber and more than 300 volunteers help during the year to pull off Longmire Days. About 200 yellow-shirted volunteers worked the weekend, coming from all over the world.

One conspicuous volunteer wore a bright yellow shirt labeled “Groupie” to Friday’s autograph session. On Saturday he was dressed as a chamber volunteer. Gino Vigil lives in Kansas City, Mo., and said he was attending his third Longmire Days. He said he’s “simply a fan, as in fanatic.”

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Local media made it easy to stay on top of the Longmire Days action.

Mark Wilson, with local radio station KBBS 1450 AM, was live on the air for Friday’s softball game and Saturday’s parade. Mark Bentley joined him on the broadcasts and posted the running commentary on his internet radio station, 307NetRadio.com. He’s also a member of the Chamber of Commerce board.

The broadcast duo had to do some creative time-filling on Saturday as some celebrities essential to the parade lineup were a bit late in arriving. Too much Friday fun, it was reported. After a 30-minute delay, the procession, featuring cast members, Johnson, horseback riders, and musicians marching and playing on flatbeds, rolled through downtown.

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The sheriff was everywhere.

Looking a bit haggard on Friday morning, Robert Taylor, the 53-year-old Australian actor, was churning through the hundreds of autograph-and-selfie seekers who registered for the hours-long session. Later that afternoon, he added play-by-play commentary from the sidelines of the softball game.

Saturday he rode a bronco (actually, stood in the bed of a Ford Bronco) while taking cell phone photos of the big crowd, did another long autograph session at the Bomber Mountain Civic Center, and then joined the panel at the high school.

Sure, they are actors, but his colleagues from the TV series seemed sincere with their high praise and respect for his work ethic, good humor and patience.

“This has been the role of a lifetime for me,” Taylor said at the gym event. “I’ve been able to do acting the way I’d hoped to. It’s a privilege to work for a show like this.

“I’m eternally grateful I got to work with these people,” he added, acknowledging his colleagues seated at the long table at one end of the basketball court.

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And about that Rainier beer—the sheriff’s favorite. Occidental Hotel owner David Stewart told the Buffalo Bulletin that he learned a lesson after customers poured down 50 cases of long-necked Rainiers in only two days last year. He ordered 100 cases for the three-day party this year.

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