Fort William derives its name from the three Williams who once camped in the area around 1834, Bartley Skinner’s great uncle, William Marshall Anderson, along with William Sublette and William Patton. The following quotation from William Anderson’s diary as published by the Huntington Library reads:
May 31, 1834. This day we laid the foundation log of a fort, on Laramee’s fork. A friendly dispute arose between our leader and myself, as to the name, He proposed to call it Fort Anderson, I insisted upon baptizing it Fort Sublette, and holding the trump card in my hand (a bottle of champagne) was about to claim the trick. Sublette stood by, cup reversed, still objected when Patton offered a compromise which was accepted, and the foam flew, in honor of Fort William, which contained the triad pre names of clerk, leader and friend.”
Creators and architects of Fort William were Bartley and Rose Skinner. Rose, a native Wyomingite, was the first white baby born on the Indian Reservation in Pavilion (near Riverton) on the east side of the Wind River Mountains. After spending her teenage years in Wyoming, her father was transferred to Phoenix, AZ prior to the Second World War. Missing her bus for work one evening, a desperate but thankful Rose was offered a ride by a young air force man, Bartley Skinner who would later become her husband.
The couple first visited the area on their honeymoon in 1946 and purchased the 120-acre property in 1954 from Bob and Grace McBride whose relatives had homesteaded there in the 1920’s. The original cabin remains. Initially the couple had no plans for their “piece of paradise” that abounded with wildlife and pan-sized trout in nearby Fall Creek.
The Skinners relocated to Pinedale in 1967 to start work on Fort William with a vision to create “an excellent steakhouse for the discriminating diner”. Bartley initially constructed the kitchen and appealing sunken dining room using rocks, logs and sod from the surrounding area. He later built the hotel with large function room featuring huge exposed, log beams, extensive stone double fireplace and 8 bedrooms.
Bartley and Rose Skinner sourced memorabilia that they felt would add to the interest and charm of Fort William. The jail door from the old Sublette County jail in Pinedale leads the way to the woodpile and there’s a seat from the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix. Paul Allen’s father left his coat in the corner one night many moons ago; the two foot square door jambs are the timbers from the old Sweetwater bridge, a potbelly stove from the Lester Pape Ranch stands in the center of the reception area, the bar stools are tractor seats, and a 6,000 pound safe from a Chicago bank guards the hallway.
Fort William’s original menu still appears on the dining room wall:
• Cowgirl 16 oz. steak
• Cowboy 24 oz. steak
• Wagon Master 32 oz. steak
Steaks were accompanied by coleslaw with pickles, Bartley’s cowboy beans and Rose’s homemade white or rye bread. The steaks were grilled over one of Bartley’s personally designed counterweighted grills that could be raised and lowered; an adaptation of a curtain hoist from Bartley’s theatrical days as a stagehand. Today’s chef can still be seen raising and lowering the same grill.
Bartley and Rose Skinner sold their property to current owner Mike Ryan who as a young boy had vacationed at Fort William with his parents and loved the peace and tranquility it offered. Fort William is still regarded by the locals as ‘the best place in Pinedale for a great steak’. Vacationers can book a room for the night and enjoy a most restful night’s sleep as William Anderson recorded nearly two centuries ago “never have I slept more profoundly - never was my rest more unbroken---”