The most famous line of The Virginian was based on an anecdote recorded by author Owen Wister in his 1894 diary. It was attributed to saloon-owner John Lawrence in notorious and short-lived Fetterman, Wyoming, in 1885 or 1886.
In response to a taunt during a card game, Lawrence reportedly looked at his name caller and said, “You smile when you call me that!”
According to Wister the other man smiled and the incident ended peacefully.
Wister’s version of this line, “When you call me that, smile!” appeared in Chapter 2 of The Virginian.
Owen Wister’s papers, including his numerous diaries, are available at UW’s American Heritage Center.