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Roger W. Hollander, Irma Lake, and “Buffalo Bill” Gates

by Susi, 1 March 2010

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Last June I heard that Bill Gates bought Irma Lake Ranch (above), the property of a dear friend of mine, Roger W. Hollander. I was happy to hear the news. I loved the place, and will never forget the time I spent there. Knowing that it is staying in private hands is somehow heartening. (More info from Huffington Post here.)

Roger bought Irma Lake in the 90s to serve as his private home, and headquarters of his Empire of All Things Extraordinary. The ranch had belonged to Buffalo Bill Cody, and was used to entertain celebrities and heads of state on hunting and nature outings in the mountains and plains near what is now Yellowstone National Park. Cody even had the Burlington Northern Railway build a spur line out to the ranch. Many of the original structures from Cody’s time still survive intact on the 500 acre property. Thanks in part to Roger’s conscientious stewardship of the property during the years he called it home. (You can download a property brochure from it’s listing agent for the sale, here.)

Roger was involved in a terrible car accident a few years ago, while driving down the seven mile mountain drive from Irma Lake Lodge, his spectacularly beautiful, and intensely personal home. In the pre-dawn hours, heading for the Cody airport, he rolled his SUV, and was left in sub-freezing weather, unconscious and upside-down, held in place by his safety belt. Several hours later, he was found by ranchers and rushed to hospital. The head injuries and exposure were so severe, that even a hardy soul like Roger has been unable to recover. He remains in rehabilitative care in Wyoming to this day, and all of his friends are still saddened by Roger’s tragic story.

One of the most intelligent, most intense, most understated, and most interesting people I have ever known, Roger was a passionate and eclectic collector, of many things – – of rare books, photography, 20th century furniture, wine, films, classical music, jazz, Indian textiles, Chinese minority people’s costume, and of great, good friends.

Hardly a day goes by when Roger doesn’t come to mind. As a tiny tribute, I share some images here from three weeks I spent at Irma Lake in 2004. I can’t recall a time I was ever happier, than during those weeks. Roger created a complete world around him, of the best and most intriguing people, thoughts, objects, images, films, music, and natural beauty. His collections are being dispersed to the four winds, some headed for museums, others for private collections, others dismantled and offered at auction. Happily, his extraordinary home in the mountains outside Cody will remain a private home, cared for by someone I believe will respect the spirit of the place. Bill Gates will now step into the shoes of Buffalo Bill (and Roger Hollander after him), in preserving the heritage of Lake Irma.

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Buffalo Bill’s private sanctuary cabin. Intact. I had hoped to spend some time in retreat there. With maybe one book, and a good fishing rod.

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Roger’s eye for textiles and 20th century modern furniture was impeccable.

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The valley where Irma Lake is set – – sublime in all seasons, and always changing.

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Clearing in the aspen woods, during a morning walk from the house.

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Innately generous, Roger practically forced me to take over the keys to the Land Rover and the gas pump for exploring.

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The Buckeroo State . . .

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Roger had horses, but they went wild . . . often spotted grazing here and there or rambling the roads.

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He dared me to go skinnydipping in Irma Lake in the autumn, when the water was just a whisper above freezing. I never could turn down a dare like that. It snowed the following day.

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This guest bedroom had a wealth of native weavings and Pendleton blankets, another had Kenny Scharf’s painting made as a gift to Roger for a landmark birthday, still others had . . . the list is endless, at Lake Irma you lived amid the collections.

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Roger loved his kitchen, but I wouldn’t say he was a great chef, despite his great enthusiasm! As everywhere else in the house, the kitchen was chock a block with all manner of unrelated objects and information, all of them extraordinary, but none as extraordinary as Roger himself.

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A trickle of guests would visit Lake Irma, not a dull character among them. On this occasion we had Mattiebelle Gittinger, the curator of the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. The weekend before it was one of Roger’s old friends from Yale, now one of the world’s leading scholars of Pre-Columbian art. Roger wished more people would visit, his dream was for the house to be a centre of exchange, creativity, scholarship, fellowship, good food . . .

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. . . and exceptionally good wine. These were the bottles he opened for just any old evening.

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The cellar was deep and diverse . . .

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. . . the sommelier’s knowledge unsurpassed . . .

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. . . and the corridors downstairs were filled with still-unsorted enological acquisitions . . . amid archival racks of the best of world cinema, and archival chests of drawers filled with meticulously catalogued recorded music . . .

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. . . ephemera abounded, as well. Here’s a stuffed bobcat amid boxes of wine beside the deep freeze.

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And strewn on every flat surface books bought at auction or online, auction catalogs, and bushels of correspondence.

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Roger was loved by society, invited everywhere, but the hurly burly of fêtes and galas never ruffled his feathers in the least. Calm amid the storm, and always easy to engage in an involved conversation on almost any topic you can mention. That’s Roger. Here he is at the Founder’s Ball at the Cody Museum, which we attended together and enjoyed enormously. I never knew Buckeroos could be quite so elegant.  They sure clean up nice.

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A toast to life. Footnote: the finest of Rocky Mountain Society raved about my dress by Balinese designer Oka Diputra. Glad I had a stack of his cards in my bag.

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And there is Irma Lake Lodge, set on some 500 acres, of woodland, rolling hills, and rocky crags, dotted with trout-filled lakes and lakelets.

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On my last day at Irma Lake, I stopped to take this photo on the way up from town. The gravel drive is seven miles long, climbing up into the mountains. It’s painful to see this image. It was taken near the spot where Roger’s car rolled off the road.

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And there the story goes cold . . . here’s a view of the old dairy barn, converted into a guest house.

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And on the terrace in front of the house, a chilled lounger . . . mute and monochromatic and still . . .

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Finally, the last photograph I took during this visit to Irma Lake. I saw this stone standing alone on the crest of a small ridge beside the road up to the house. Now when I look at it, I see a mute monument, with no epitaph, as the man still lives but is now far away from us, as mysterious and solitary as this stone by the roadside on an open ridge above the autumn grasslands.

    11 Comments


    • This is a lovely tribute to a fabulous man, Roger Hollander, nothing less than an "across the board genius," from technology to the humanities, who loved Life so much that he survived an accident no one else would have...As an update, Roger has made tremendous strides in his recovery, thanks to the support of modern medicine, his family, and friends like Susi Johnston! Now that the ranch is sold, there is no security reason not to show a photo (that you may have, Susi) of Roger's temperature controlled textile collection room chock-a-block with rolls of the greatest Asian textiles...I joked with him about how he must of misinterpreted when he heard the other gentleman cowboys speaking around the bar at Buffalo Bill's Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming, when he heard them say they collect Indian textiles...they meant Navajo blankets, de rigueur adornment for Ranches in the Rockies...but Roger always was a contrarian, and that thanks to turning East at the Fork, he created the greatest collection of Indian Trade Cloths in the Western World. Susi Johnston helped him achieve that, for which she is too shy to mention, but I will. And with that photo of Susi about to dive in Irma Lake, I sure know why the trout were biting the next time we went down to the water not long after, hoping to nibble a nymph no doubt... but getting instead Danny Shaffer, Tony Hazledine of Hali magazine and moi, no doubt less tasty morsels. We were brought to the "secret spots" by guide Roger at the tiller of the boat, bringing us nouveau fly fishermen where the big lunkers lived under logs....So here is a toast to the memory of the Irma Lake Lodge and Roger's famous hospitality...and although that time/space loci may have passed for all of us who loved it there, it stays vividly in our memory...Roger would be the first to encourage new collectors to form visionary collections and create scholarship retreats in beautiful places. Who will be the next to take up this meritorious mission, which turns out to be such good, clean fun! Wishing all the best, -Thomas Murray

        • Terri
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        • May 18, 2014

        Roger is one in a million. So sorry to learn of the accident. Thank you for the beautiful tribute. Sending prayers, Terri

      • Laurie (Kukachka) Smyrl
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      • April 29, 2010

      Susi, thank you for the wonderful story and pictures of Roger's life at the ranch. What a beautiful setting for this wonderful man and his outstanding collections. I knew Roger's family and worked for Roger back in the 1970's. We had lost touch many years ago and I had often wondered where he went after leaving Minneapolis. By all appearances he had a wonderful home filled with friends .... and, of course, good wine. If ever you get the chance please tell him hello and I pray for his full recovery. I must admit to a good chuckle when I saw the pictures of his kitchen! It so reminded me of his office ... always a mess but full of amazing items.

      • Laurie (Kukachka) Smyrl
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      • April 29, 2010

      Roger, you were always a class act! Even when you decorated Mike's car after the wedding. He hated it ... I loved it. Laurie Kukachka Smyrl

      • Susi
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      • April 29, 2010

      Thanks for your wonderful comments, Laurie!

      • Laurie (Kukachka) Smyrl
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      • July 12, 2010

      Susi, any word on how Rodger is doing these days? I would love to hear from him. Thanks, Laurie (Kukachka) Smyrl

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      • November 23, 2010

      Susi, My Great Grandfather was the ranch foreman for W.R. Coe owner of the Carter Mtn Ranch which included the Irma Lake Lodge.. One of the finest places in the world!! I am trying to contact Roger, if you know how that may be possible, please let me know.. With Kindest Regards, Daren Singer 1409 Rumsey Avenue Cody, WY 82414 307 587-8004

      • Phila McDaniel
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      • June 19, 2011

      Dear Susi, Thank you so much for putting this wonderful tribute out for Roger's friends. I am the one who took Roger to Guizhou for the first time and helped him to identify some of the mystery textiles from Guizhou that he had previously collected. Later he went to Eastern Tibet with my research group and had a great time there as well. I have known for some time about the accident and the sale of the ranch but have not had an address to communicate directly with Roger as I wanted to do. Can you please provide that address, so that I can send him some get well messages and tell him about my newest research ? I would also like to know where his fine collection is housed and who is in charge of caring for it. I am so sorry that we have never met personally. You sound like someone I should know. You may have heard about some of my lifelong travels in remote areas of China, Tibet and southeast Asia. I started the collection from Guizhou and Yunnan quite some time ago at Mingei International Museum in San Diego and we have had seven exhibitons in other museums and hopefully more to come. The huge exhibition "Silver and Silk" is still being talked about but only on fourth of the material has been exhibited. I have written a great deal in magazines and the "Silver and Silk" book and video, contributed to the new Berg Publication of the ten volume encyclopedia of world costume and most recently an article in the new Textiles Asia magazine that explains what I know about the Golock clans in eastern Tibet. I plan to write about all the various clans and sub groups. I own East West Expeditions Travel company. We recently changed our name from East West Tours becuae Expeditions fits better as to what we really do in the extreme rural areas. I will be departing July 3 on our last big research trip and will return on August 14. In 2012 we will be out there one more time to finish a documentary film and some other objectives. We take people on these excursions by interview. I just returned from Guizhou and was prepared to be disappointed by the changes taking place among the tribal groups with the advent of freeways, factories and dams destroying ancient villages. I was however amazed to find quite a few groups living as they did 300 years ago in the high mountain areas - undisturbed by the 21st century. Now I am planning a special tour in 2012 in the northwest part of Guizhou and the southeast portion of Yunnan with the vice general manager of Guizhou Province and we will visit more remote tribal groups that are hidden from the general tourist routes and are very remote. I am taking people by invitation only. If you know of anyone who would like to go with us in 2012, you may give them my email and I will reply. It is eastwesttours@hotmail.com. My address is East West Expeditions 40485 Murrieta Hot Springs Rd. #213 Murrieta, CA 92563. Phone is 951-551-1928 We are updating our website. Roger had invited me many times to visti the ranch, but sadly, I did not get that chance before the tragic accident. Please give Roger my love if you talk to him soon. With appreciation, Phila McDaniel

      • Phila McDaniel
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      • June 19, 2011

      Dear Susi, PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF THIS HAS BEEN SENT Thank you so much for putting this wonderful tribute out for Roger\'s friends. I am the one who took Roger to Guizhou for the first time and helped him to identify some of the mystery textiles from Guizhou that he had previously collected. Later he went to Eastern Tibet with my research group and had a great time there as well. I have known for some time about the accident and the sale of the ranch but have not had an address to communicate directly with Roger as I wanted to do. Can you please provide that address, so that I can send him some get well messages and tell him about my newest research ? I would also like to know where his fine collection is housed and who is in charge of caring for it. I am so sorry that we have never met personally. You sound like someone I should know. You may have heard about some of my lifelong travels in remote areas of China, Tibet and southeast Asia. I started the collection from Guizhou and Yunnan quite some time ago at Mingei International Museum in San Diego and we have had seven exhibitons in other museums and hopefully more to come. The huge exhibition \"Silver and Silk\" is still being talked about but only on fourth of the material has been exhibited. I have written a great deal in magazines and the \"Silver and Silk\" book and video, contributed to the new Berg Publication of the ten volume encyclopedia of world costume and most recently an article in the new Textiles Asia magazine that explains what I know about the Golock clans in eastern Tibet. I plan to write about all the various clans and sub groups. I own East West Expeditions Travel company. We recently changed our name from East West Tours becuae Expeditions fits better as to what we really do in the extreme rural areas. I will be departing July 3 on our last big research trip and will return on August 14. In 2012 we will be out there one more time to finish a documentary film and some other objectives. We take people on these excursions by interview. I just returned from Guizhou and was prepared to be disappointed by the changes taking place among the tribal groups with the advent of freeways, factories and dams destroying ancient villages. I was however amazed to find quite a few groups living as they did 300 years ago in the high mountain areas - undisturbed by the 21st century. Now I am planning a special tour in 2012 in the northwest part of Guizhou and the southeast portion of Yunnan with the vice general manager of Guizhou Province and we will visit more remote tribal groups that are hidden from the general tourist routes and are very remote. I am taking people by invitation only. If you know of anyone who would like to go with us in 2012, you may give them my email and I will reply. It is eastwesttours@hotmail.com. My address is East West Expeditions 40485 Murrieta Hot Springs Rd. #213 Murrieta, CA 92563. Phone is 951-551-1928 We are updating our website. Roger had invited me many times to visti the ranch, but sadly, I did not get that chance before the tragic accident. Please give Roger my love if you talk to him soon. With appreciation, Phila McDaniel

      • Richard Hall
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      • May 6, 2016

      My name is Rick. I was the superintendent for all of the work on the caretaker house, the lodge, the historic horse barn and the guest house at Irma Lake. I was in charge of all the construction on the site for 4 years. I worked closely with Roger everyday and learned so much from him I can't even explain. He is the most interesting man in the world to me and to this day I think of him and how he showed me to look at things from all angles. He taught me patience and calmness and how to be professional. I will never forget my 4 years with him and all of these pictures and thoughts make me sad but also so happy I could be in Rogers life for a short time and to call him my friend and mentor. We love you Roger!

        • Susi
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        • May 6, 2016

        Hi, Rick. What a coincidence! I was just looking at Irma Lake on Google Earth last night. It looks like things are well preserved, and no real changes, except a wall and a gate where the road enters the property. I find that reassuring, somehow. :)

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