Never let it be said that Big Horn is unaccustomed to big shots.
Teddy Roosevelt himself shot bull elk on the black-lava mountain ridge nearby. Ernest Hemingway wrote "Wine of Wyoming" in a cabin outside this petite prairie pit stop, which has a population of 217 humans and about the same number of horses. Cary Grant once strolled both blocks of the main street. That history may explain why people here say they will be somewhat underwhelmed Friday afternoon when a long limousine carrying Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign Head of the British Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith, is due to arrive in this tiny town and pull up to the white frame house at 56 Canyon Ranch Rd.
Her majesty will spend four days there, at the apron of the ruggedly beautiful Big Horn mountains, with her dear friend Lady Porchester, nee Jean Margaret Wallop, a Big Horn native and sister of another prominent Big Hornian, Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.)
"Well now, yes, sure, we're glad the queen is coming," says Skip Israel, the easy-going proprietor of the Big Horn Mercantile, a 102-year-old enterprise that serves as the town's gas station, grocery, post office and rumor central.
"But this was advertised private, a private vacation, and okay -- if folks want to be left alone, we might just as well leave them alone."
There seems to be a little more excitement six miles up the road in Sheridan, the county seat, where the Queen's Anglo-American entourage of media, security and other retainers has taken over the Holiday Inn.
Mack Bryant, head of the Chamber of Commerce, has called the royal vacation here "the most public private event I've ever heard of."
But even in Sheridan people have their minds on other things, because the queen's visit will last until Oct. 15 -- and that day, Monday, is every bit as important to Wyoming as Election Day is to Washington.
Oct. 15 is the opening day of deer and elk season. For the first day of the hunt, schools are closed, offices are deserted, and the pickup trucks heading for the woods crowd together into the area's annual traffic jam.
The thought of all those armed men and women traipsing around sent a shiver up the spines of the advance people when they came here this spring to plan the queen's vacation. They asked county Sheriff Bill Johnson if the start of the season might be postponed. No dice, the sheriff replied.
In any case, the people of Big Horn are determined to see to it that the visitor gets the privacy she is seeking.
There was some discussion around the wooden bench in front of the Mercantile as to whether the town ought to hang out a welcoming banner.
Christina Mulkerrin, a spunky immigrant from County Galway, proposed hanging an Irish flag from the porch of the Bozeman Trail Inn, but this plan was rejected. Big Horn is not big on political protest.
There was also a protocol problem involved in the banner question. "As my wife said," Skip Israel notes, "what do you say to a queen?"
The issue was resolved by the students at the town school, who took matters into their own capable hands and stretched a big yellow banner across Rte. 335: "Big Horn School Welcomes Queen Elizabeth."
The reason for the queen's visit here goes back to 1955, when Jean Wallop, after a trip to England, fell in love with and married Lord Porchester, a close friend of the royal family who is manager of the Royal Stables.
Lady Porchester described Big Horn in such glowing terms that nothing would do but a royal inspection. The queen's husband, Prince Philip, was the first to come, on a five-day fishing and hunting trip in 1969.
It was harder to fit a vacation into the queen's crowded schedule, but this year, after her tour of Canada, the monarch set two weeks of private repose in the United States -- first in the Kentucky bluegrass country and now in the tall yellow prairie of rural Wyoming.
There's nothing particularly unusual about British nobility visiting this remote region of rock and ranch just below the Montana border. In the 1880s, in fact, when cowboy mania swept the British upper class, dozens of daring young men just out of Oxford and Cambridge forsook the pleasures of the Victorian parlor for the perils of ranching along the base of the Big Horn range.
The locals scoffed at these "remittance men," who lived on monthly checks from their London bursars. And many of the British cowboys did give up and go home after the infamous blizzard of '87.
But a few survived and prospered.
Among them was one Oliver Henry Wallop (later the seventh Earl of Portsmouth), an Oxford grad who came loping into Big Horn in 1888 and eventually set up a major horse-breeding operation on the Canyon Ranch.
Today the two-story ranch house he built belongs jointly to his grandchildren, including Malcolm Wallop and Lady Porchester. The queen will be staying there this weekend.
During the Boer War, Oliver Wallop landed a lucrative contract supplying horses for the British army.
A procurement officer in London specified that each mount had to be able to gallop the length of a polo field, so Wallop carved out a green gem of a polo park on a ridge above Little Goose Creek. It is still in regular use today among Big Horn's horsey set.
There is some dispute as to whether Big Horn's polo field is the oldest in North America. But it is hard to believe that any could be lovelier. The players ride their ponies along a lush swath of hillside terrace with a row of bushy cottonwoods at one end and the Big Horns climbing up from the other.
The polo season ended last month, however; the queen will not be able to take in a game. Indeed, there is considerable speculation about just what her highness will do during her long weekend here.
Lady Porchester has said that there will probably not be any riding. Instead, Queen Elizabeth is expected to visit with fellow horse-lovers and stroll the ranch to drink in the beauty of the "Aspenglow" -- the gleaming gold leaves of the autumn aspen, just now in full color on the slopes of the mountains.
The one announced excursion is a visit Sunday to the Bradford Brinton Ranch, a picture-postcard western spread that Brinton, a rich industrialist from Dixon, Ill., turned into a museum of cowboy art and artifacts.
Skip Israel hopes the queen will take a shopping tour of downtown Big Horn. If she were to do so, she would see, within a 50-yard walk, the volunteer firehouse and all four of the town's commercial establishments: the Mercantile, the Mountain Man Highland Trading Co., an antique store, The Bozeman Trail Inn, proud claimant to the title "Wyoming's Oldest Bar," and its arch-rival, the Last Chance Bar.
Security men from the Secret Service and the Royal Air Force have been checking various stores on Main Street in Sheridan, the county seat, which is six miles up the road. This has prompted speculation that Elizabeth will visit King's Saddlery, a tack shop graced with autographed photos of rodeo champions and the rich, deep fragrance of newly tanned leather.
King's has occasionally sold an English saddle, but its stocks-in-trade are the standard cowboy model and its custom-built lariats. The store does have a big display of Propert's English Boot Cream ("By appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II"), which is stacked next to giant-sized bottles of Super Swat Fly Repellent and Feibing's Concentrated Horse Shampoo.
Some locals are betting that her highness, for old time's sake, will stop by the Main Street emporium called The Ritz, a gold mine of hunting and fishing gear that is run by the county's most prominent angler, Sam Mavrakis.
Sam still has fond memories of his experience in 1969, when the queen's husband used some of the Ritz's hand-tied flies (including Sam's famous Gray Hackle Peacock Tail) for fishing on the Little Goose.
"I went out to the Wallop ranch to deliver them. Well, Prince Philip was just a regular guy. One hell of a regular guy."
Mavrakis says this prior brush with royalty may be one reason that Big Horn residents are taking the regal visit in stride. But he also points out taking people in stride is standard operating procedure here in Wyoming.
"This isn't Washington, D.C., you know," Sam says matter-of-factly. "Nobody goes crazy just because there's a queen in town."