Wyoming Legends: The Strange Story of ‘Hot Tamale Louie’
For over 50 years, "Hot Tamale Louie", or "Hamburger Louie" as some called him, was a Wyoming institution.
Born in Afghanistan, now present-day Pakistan, Zarif Kahn settled in Wyoming in 1909, at the age of 18. The following year, he began selling tamales and hamburgers from a food cart in Sheridan.
He eventually opened a shop on Main Street, which he operated until 1955.
In 1926, "Louie" was badly burned in a kitchen accident. After the incident, The Sheridan Post Enterprise reported that he was the only Muslim living in the area, which led some locals to question his citizenship.
At the time, only Caucasians and African-Americans were legally allow to obtain citizenship. With support from many of his friends in Sheridan, "Louie" argued that, in spite of his birthplace, he was "as white as any European." Nearly 30 years later, he was finally granted his citizenship in 1954.
Known for maintaining a strict 80-hour work week, "Louie" was also a well regarded businessman. In spite of being illiterate, his investments earned him a small fortune in the stock market. Rumors around town suggested that he was a millionaire.
In 1964, "Louie" was stabbed to death while visiting Pakistan. When the news of his death finally reached Sheridan, he was hailed as a local legend and beloved businessmen by Wyoming politician William Henry Harrison, Jr.
Stories in the local press recalled the time he served his famous hamburgers to a long list of luminaries, including President William Taft and Buffalo Bill Cody.
Another half century would pass before the legend of "Hot Tamale Louie" would resurface. In 2015, a group of Muslims purchased a mosque near Gillette, one of only three mosques in the entire state.
Another group of local residents protested the building of a mosque and formed a controversial group called "Stop Islam in Gillette".
Local Muslims, and their supporters, argued that their families had been worshiping peacefully in Wyoming for generations. The face of their campaign became "Hot Tamale Louie", who they credited as the first man to practice Islam in the Cowboy State.
The controversial story quickly spread from northeastern Wyoming and has gained national attention.
Recently, New Yorker magazine published a two-part profile titled "Citizen Khan", which dates the first Afghani-owned tamale shop in Wyoming back even further, when "Hot Tamale Louie" learned his craft from fellow countryman Azed Khan.
Together, "Louie" Kahn and his mentor are the patriarchs of the Muslim community in Wyoming, which now numbers in the hundreds.