By Luke Anderson
August 12, 2015
Willis Moses Spear established the Spear-O-Wigwam camp with his wife Virginia in 1923. Originally just a tent camp, the guest ranch grew to include 16 buildings. Difficult times in the agriculture business in the area persuaded the Spears to get into the dude ranch business, turning to tourism as opposed to ranching. Construction began on the main lodge in 1924 and the camp grew quickly in both size and popularity. Only five years after its inception, Spear-O-Wigwam played host to one of the 20th century’s most well-known writers stayed at the ranch. While he was there, Ernest Hemingway finished the first draft of his best-selling novel A Farewell to Arms. The cabin in which he stayed then became known as the “Hemingway” cabin. In addition to Hemingway, Spear-O-Wigwam hosted numerous East Coast city folks who pined for the rigorous lifestyle of the mountainous wilderness. This lifestyle served as an antidote to the soft, monotony of the technological city.
Construction on the Main Lodge started in 1924 and was intended to serve as the central wigwam, or council lodge. Originally, the Main Lodge was an octagonal structure with a steeply pitched roof that resembles a teepee. A spearhead-shaped entryway was added in 1934 as a reference to the family “Spear” brand. One architectural feature that makes the Main Lodge extra special is the “post and purlin” structure on the interior lodge, which is only one of four of its kind in the American West. The rest of the property consists mainly of small cabins, built of the traditional stacked-log construction. The logs were all locally sourced and hand-crafted. The modest cabins provide shelter, privacy, and peace of mind for guests of Spear-O-Wigwam.
Spear-O-Wigwam is both architecturally and historically significant. The unique design and construction of the Main Lodge, including the octagonal design, the spearhead entry, and the post and purlin roof support system, make the ranch a great example of unique architectural design. It was also designed mostly by New York architect H. Elarth. This combined with the large number of East Coast city residents that vacationed at the camp makes Spear-O-Wigwam an interesting intersection between East and West and between civilization and wilderness. The ranch is historically significant as well due to the presence of Ernest Hemingway as well as its solid place in the dude ranch tradition of Wyoming.
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This project was funded in part by a Historic Architecture Assistance Fund grant, and completed by Kurt Dubbe and his team at Dubbe Moulder Architects. The program is offered by the Alliance for Historic Wyoming in partnership with Wyoming Main Street and the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, and is made possible by a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund.