For more than 60 years a buffalo fur coat has been a story-telling topic for Courtney Gimbel.
He made the purchase in 1955, when he came across it hanging on the wall of a general store in Peace River AB. Gimbel was intrigued by the “very heavy” coat, which he came across in the store’s dusty basement.
“I had gone into the store to buy some footwear,” Gimbel said in his home in Crest View Village last week. “I saw it hanging on the wall in the basement, covered with dust. I said to (owner) John Mann, ‘What’s with this big fur coat you’ve got here?’
“Oh, that was Doc Green’s coat. He left it to pay his grocery bill,” came the reply.
Gimbel, who had a market garden and small dairy farm nearby, couldn’t let the story end there.
“What are you going to do with it?” he asked. “How big was the bill?”
Mann told his customer that Doc Green had left the coat, owing $60 on his grocery bill.
“Would you take $60 for it?” Gimbel asked. And the deal was done.
Like many valued possessions, there comes a time of reckoning as to their disposal. Last year, the now 89-years-old Gimbel was cleaning out his house to sell.
“I was going to give it to my nephew,” he said. “But then it just came to me—this belongs in a museum. I don’t know where that thought came from, it just came to me.”
Gimbel recalled the time of the purchase, when he loaded it into his pickup truck, and the years of moving it from one home to another.
“That poor old buffalo—I treated her pretty bad!”
With the help of his cousin, Harold Kindopp, another Creston resident, Gimbel made contact with the National Bison Range in Montana, hoping that the visitor’s centre and museum might take an interest. The operators, Jeff and Laura King, did just that.
“I called and said I would like to donate the coat,” Gimbel said. A series of emails and letters ensued, and eventually he and his cousin arranged to meet a government agent in Bonners Ferry. From there it was relayed to the Bison Range Museum.
“Boy, were Jeff and Laura King excited,” Gimbel said.
Earlier this summer, Kindopp organized a trip so that his cousin could see his donation in its new home.
“He had it on his bucket list,” Kindopp laughed.
They made the drive southeastward to the National Bison Range, where they got a warm reception and the chance to see the coat on display.
Made in Prince Albert SK, the coat’s history pre-Doc Green is unknown, but similar coats were worn by the Northwest Mounted Police and they were familiar sites on farms in the prairies.
At the National Bison Range, Gimbel was welcomed with a thank you plaque and a decorated cake. He was also photographed modeling his donation. The coat has grown in fame since US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was photographed while wearing it.
“I’m a dyed in the wool Northerner,” Gimbel said of his pride in being able share his purchase of 60 years ago with people who will now learn a bit of the coat’s historical value when they visit the visitor’s centre.
“It’s nice—it’s going to stay there a long time.”