Best of the West
- Written by True West Editors
- Published January 01, 2010
Here are the winners of our "2010 Best of the West." Sit back and see if your pick made the list.
Best Hotel in the West
San Antonio’s Menger Hotel celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009. And what a history it has seen—guests have included Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, in addition to any number of Old West characters. Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders in the hotel bar (which has changed little since 1898). The heritage is well preserved and displayed throughout the Menger. The hotel is also a comfortable hangout for those visiting the Alamo, located just across the street.
READERS’ CHOICE: Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel • Cody, WY • irmahotel.com
Best B&B in the West
Nagle Warren Mansion B&B
The History Channel chose the Nagle Warren Mansion to film interior scenes for its “Cowboys and Outlaws” series segments on Tom Horn and Cattle Kate, confirming something we already knew: this is one of the great Victorian properties in the West. Once a cattle baron’s home, it is now home to visitors in the Magic City of the Plains (Cheyenne, Wyoming) where you’ll have a chance for “Wine & Whine” on the third Thursday of the month, High Tea on Fridays and mystery weekends. Innkeeper Jim Osterfoss’s breakfasts are bound to get your day off to the right start.
READERS’ CHOICE: Lost Creek Country Inn • Chandler, OK • lostcreektown.com
Best Tour Company Out West
Great American Adventures
Steve and Marcie Shaw of Great American Adventures have taken Old West travel to a new level. Emphasizing period dress and historical accuracy, the Shaws have opened up a brand new category: Historical Re-enactment Travel. In addition to their annual Custer Ride (horseback on the actual route in period dress, with a mock battle on the Little Bighorn Battlefield), the Shaws this year, in conjunction with True West magazine, added the Wyatt Earp Vendetta Ride. Each participant was given a horse to ride into Tombstone, Arizona, and out to Cottonwood Springs where historians now believe the famous fight between Wyatt Earp and Curly Bill took place. In addition to visiting the site, one of the tour members, our own Dave Daiss, discovered the foundation of a line shack that may have been the actual line shack Curly Bill and his gang were in when the fight commenced. Living history indeed. Shaw is planning expansion of the concept next year with tours to the Wild Bunch’s Hole-in-the-Wall and other outlaw-lawmen trips.
READERS’ CHOICE: Into the West Jeep Tours • Hereford, AZ • intothewestjeeptours.com
Best Chance to Drive a Steam Locomotive
Nevada Northern Railway's Engine Rental Program
“You actually have the chance to put your hand on the throttle of 100 tons of a fire-breathing steam locomotive. It transports you to a different place and time,” says Executive Director Mark S. Bassett, about the engine rental program at the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely. Rental engineers have ranged from U.S. Air Force generals to a gentleman who showed up in a traditional engineerman’s uniform, styled like the one he wore while he sat in the engineer’s seat during the heyday of steam. Rental engineers get to run the steam locomotive to Keystone, up 323 feet—the equivalent of a 30-story building—and back down the hill to Ely. While the fireman feverishly shovels coal into the firebox, every tug of yours on the throttle brings a whoosh of steam escaping from the open cylinder cocks. For such a unique outreach program that transports adventurers back to our steam locomotive heritage, we honor the Nevada Northern Railway.
Best Preserved Gravesite in the West
The ghosts of El Paso’s Concordia Cemetery protect the place. Well, actually, the ghost tours should get the credit. For years, vandals damaged gravestones at the famous landmark; repairs took most of the institution’s budget. In July 2008, the specter of a solution appeared to the El Paso del Norte Paranormal Society—paid ghost tours of the cemetery. Between then and last August, more than $10,000 was raised to restore and preserve the historic site, and to bolster security. On top of that, the society contributes its efforts to the cemetery for free. Now outlaw John Wesley Hardin (see his grave at left) and lawman John Selman, and the Buffalo Soldiers and the Texas Rangers who rest among the 60,000 souls buried here are getting some peace again.
Best Preserved Fort in the West
Wyoming’s Fort Laramie has served a lot of purposes during its 175 years: a fur trading post, a U.S. Army installation, private homesteads and finally a National Historic Site. Through all those changes, the fort has maintained an important place on the California, Oregon and Mormon Trails. Twelve buildings dating back to the Army days are standing and well maintained—including Old Bedlam, built in 1849 and the oldest standing building in Wyoming. In 2009, an effort to digitally preserve the images of Fort Laramie began. Scans—in 3D, no less—will allow online visitors to tour the historic location.
Best Horse Trail Ride Out West
Hondoo Rivers & Trails Ride at Capitol Reef National Park
Pat Kearney and Gary George have been leading camping and inn-to-inn trail rides throughout southern Utah since 1975. Pat reads pioneer journals to satisfy her curiosities, making her a great guide for a tour through Capitol Reef National Park. On a tour with her, she’ll point out remnants of a one-room schoolhouse from the pioneer Mormon community of Fruita, Fremont Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs on the canyon wall in the Capitol Gorge area and the Cassidy Arch, supposedly a hideout of Butch Cassidy. We can’t prove the outlaw hid there, but it is illustrative of the Robber’s Roost area where he and his fellow Wild Bunch outlaws often found shelter. “All the scenic features of this canyon land are on a giant scale, strange and weird,” wrote explorer John Wesley Powell in 1875. One hundred years later, the Hondoo guides set off to offer an educational adventure that made the terrain less weird, more familiar—and succeeded.
READERS’ CHOICE: Evening Rides at Sunset Ranch • Hollywood, CA • sunsetranchhollywood.com
Best Horse Competition Out West
National Cavalry Competition
Each year, the U.S. Cavalry Association in Fort Riley, Kansas, keeps the spirit and heritage of the cavalry alive through its National Cavalry Competition. Dozens of riders—from novice re-enactors to expert military equestrians—compete in a number of categories, including mounted saber, mounted pistol and military equitation. The event—held at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, this past September—puts a premium on accuracy in uniforms, tack, equipment and performance, whether you’re re-enacting the 1846-48 Mexican War or the 1860s-90 Plains Indian Wars. This is a remarkably colorful, beautiful and precise athletic competition that celebrates the partnership of horse and rider.
Best Vaquero Event
Santa Ynez Valley Vaquero Show & Sale
The Santa Ynez Valley Vaquero Show & Sale is the oldest event dedicated to the Spanish colonial vaquero, a world-class horseman dating a couple centuries before the American cowboy took hold. Held in the heart of Vaquero country, in Santa Ynez, California, the event began as a collector’s show that evolved into an all-encompassing gathering depicting vaquero life in the 1750-1870 heyday. One of our leading vaquero experts, Lee Anderson, tells us, “It’s as good as it gets. It would definitely get my vote.” Vaquero horsemanship and roping demonstrations are the norm at this vaquero event, put on by the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, which celebrated the event’s 25th anniversary in November 2009.
READERS’ CHOICE: The Californios • Red Bluff, CA • thecalifornios.com
Best Re-Enactment of the West
Six Guns and Shady Ladies
From their vignettes at the Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the Concordia Cemetery’s Halloween ghost tour in El Paso, Texas, and the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona (see right), this Wild West re-enactment group gets around. Bernie Sargent and his wife Melissa founded the El Paso-based troupe in 1998 as an Old West traveling show that roams throughout Texas and southern New Mexico. The group has nearly 50 skits in its repertoire, including the 1881 “Four Dead in Five Seconds” shoot-out involving a posse of Mexican vaqueros. The re-enactors pepper their skits with humor and enjoy playing the role of mythbusters. In short, they make local history fun, and they make the effort to bring their shows to as many locales as possible. That’s the big, Texas-sized spirit for you!
READERS’ CHOICE: Real Bird’s Little Bighorn Re-enactment • Crow Agency, MT • littlebighornreenactment.com
Best Annual Western Event
National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Would anyone know where Elko, Nevada, is if not for the Western Folklife Center’s outstanding event? The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009, with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor delivering the keynote address. Other “Best of the West” winners this year, Waddie Mitchell and Sons of the San Joaquin, gave their first public performances in Elko. The gathering is a great place to catch fantastic poets, such as Paul Zarzyski, Linda Hussa, Wally McRae and Baxter Black, in action.
READERS’ CHOICE (TIE): Helldorado Days • Tombstone, AZ • helldoradodays.com
Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival • Santa Clarita, CA • cowboyfestival.org
Best Living Photographer of the West
Jay Dusard has been photographing cowboys and the American West for 40-some years. Although raised in Illinois, he discovered the unique calling of the Western landscape at an early age. Dusard is not only a deeply respected steward of this terrain, but quite humble as well. Jay puts it best: “That cowpunchers have allowed me into their world, has been the great blessing of my life. They have welcomed me in to make their portraits, but more miraculously, they have indulged this pilgrim’s desire and efforts to participate in what they do. I was riding horses and following cows before I got serious about photography, so working horseback with the men and women on the outfits most likely gave me some credibility.” In 2009, folks who flew in and out of Phoenix’s Sky Harbor airport got a chance to see his cowboy and cowgirl photographs (like Julie Hagen, shown) in a multimedia exhibit. Dusard lives in Douglas, Arizona, where, when not working, he punches cows and plays the jazz coronet.
READERS’ CHOICE: Diana Volk • Sheridan, WY • dianavolk.com
Best Living Cowboy Poet
Cowboy poets may come and go, but Waddie Mitchell is here to stay. No other poet in the country hits the stage more, makes you laugh harder or is a more honest-to-goodness cowboy. At the Heber City Cowboy Gathering every November in Utah, he takes to the stage dozens of times, introducing other poets and musicians in a non-stop cascade of barbs, jabs and genuine affection. Never once does he carry a note card with him onto the stage, proving that he learned well one of the great skills of the cow camp: if you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle’ em with BS.
READERS’ CHOICE: Waddie Mitchell • Elko, NV
Best Living Western Nonfiction Writers
Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler for The Secret War in El Paso
Charles H. Harris III and Louis R. Sadler won the 2005 Spur Award for The Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution, and they’ve marked 2009 with another significant book The Secret War in El Paso: Mexican Revolutionary Intrigue, 1906-1920 (University of New Mexico Press), which describes the conspiracy and spying of the revolution that took place in El Paso.
During the Mexican Revolution period 1906-1920, the border town was a base of operations home to secret agents, smugglers, adventurers, gunrunners and more. Hmm ... some would say it still is.
READERS’ CHOICE: Robert Utley • Scottsdale, AZ
Best Living Fiction Writer
Unfortunately for Western readers, Elmer Kelton died in August at age 83 shortly after his selection—again—as the Best Living Fiction Writer. But a writer of Kelton’s talent—seven Spur Awards and four Western Heritage Wranglers—really never dies. He’ll live on with treasures like The Time It Never Rained, The Good Old Boys, Wagontongue and The Day the Cowboys Quit. Want proof? His novel Other Men’s Horses (Forge Books) ranked in the top 3,000 on Amazon.com a week before its release this past October.
READERS’ CHOICE: Elmer Kelton • San Angelo, TX
Best Western Book Series
Leisure Books’ Rediscovered Classic Westerns
A tip of the old Stetson to New York-based Leisure Books for putting back in print the titles that inspired some of the greatest Western films. Leisure launched the “Classic Film Collection” in February 2009 with The Searchers by Alan LeMay (including an essay by Owen Wister Award winner Andrew J. Fenady), and followed that with Max Brand’s Destry Rides Again, T.T. Flynn’s The Man From Laramie and LeMay’s The Unforgiven. Brand’s and Flynn’s novels hadn’t been in print for years. There’s more to come, too. Yee-hi!
Best Auction House for Western Collectibles
Heritage Auction Galleries
Jim Halperin and Steve Ivy founded what is today the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales of more than $700 million. Their offerings are not limited to the Old West, as they fit all types of nostalgia-seeking collectors, but the treasures of the West are certainly among the company’s most precious sales. The Dallas, Texas-based auction house sold Gen. George A. Custer’s personal battle flag (shown) from Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox to the Little Bighorn in 2007 for a $750,000 bid. Its top historical record to date is Gen. U.S. Grant’s Civil War presentation sword ($1.4 million). The auction house’s nearly half-a-million registered online bidders at HA.com beat out those at Christies.com and Sothebys.com, the leading auction houses, by more than 275,000 and 345,000 respectively (with latest figures available, September 2009). On top of that, Heritage Auction Galleries is the world’s largest collectibles auctioneer.
READERS’ CHOICE: High Noon Western Americana • Mesa, AZ • highnoon.com
Best Living Western Painter
As recently as 20 years ago, Westerners would be hard pressed to imagine an acclaimed painter of the American West to be from China, much less win an award for the best living Western painter but, frankly, Mian Situ has rocked our world. In fact, his painting The Powder Monkeys (shown) has rocked the entire art world. With a Masters in Fine Art from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Situ immigrated to Canada before moving to the United States. His list of awards is astounding: Masters of the American West Purchase award, Thomas Moran Memorial Award for Artistic Merit and the Patron’s Choice award. In 2009, Mian was presented with another Masters of the American West Purchase award, for Convergence of Cultures. Situ lives with his wife Helen and daughter Lisa in Southern California. Given his attention to historic detail and masterful approach we are honored to name him the Best Living Western Painter.
READERS’ CHOICE: Bob Boze Bell • Cave Creek, AZ
Best Artist to Watch
Bill Anton, born in Chicago in 1957, attended Loyola University in Chicago and then transferred as an English major to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he became interested in painting. He settled in Prescott, and his wife Peggy supported him while he established his career as an artist. He resembles in style both James Reynolds and Robert Lougheed, which is a compliment all in itself. “I do not see myself as a biographer of the ‘cowboy,’” Anton says. “I know some artists feel they are recording an historical portrayal of ranch life today in the American West, but the focus of my work has always been mood and passion. If I’m recording anything, I’m recording how I feel about the West. I want the viewer to feel the drama of atmosphere and the mystery of a Western night.” Anton is really coming into his own, and we look forward to his growth as an artist.
Best Living Western Sculptor
The fact that Bruce LaFountain placed second in the Cast Metal category at the prestigious Santa Fe Indian Market in 2009 didn’t surprise anyone. Yet this Chippewa Indian—he grew up on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota but now creates out of Salt Lake City—doesn’t create art for awards, though he has many. His abstract sculptures seem to be always moving, which might come from his childhood memories of dancing in powwows. LaFountain is brash and forthright: “The motivation for my work does not stem from wanting to win a show or from money,” LaFountain says. “It evolves from the spirit of my ancestors and my own deep spiritual feelings.” Well said, sir.
READERS’ CHOICE: Susan Kliewer • Sedona, AZ
Best Western Art Gallery
Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
Dr. Mark Sublette has excellent taste in art. By his own admission, “A love of Maynard Dixon’s art got me into the art business.” But, he adds, “it was being exposed to pueblo pottery when I was growing up in New Mexico that stoked my love of art.” His parents were research scientists and art collectors, as well. Sublette grew up in New Mexico buying American Indian art “the way some kids collect baseball cards. I always used to go to Santa Fe, up into the square and the pueblos, and buy from the artists,” he says. “That’s what really gave me the love for it—being around and seeing how things are done.” His love for Western art has made Sublette’s Medicine Man Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Tucson, Arizona, of the highest caliber. It is like visiting a museum, the art pieces are that good.
READERS’ CHOICE: Altermann Galleries • Santa Fe, NM • altermann.com
Best Photographer’s Field Trip Out West
Jim Hatzell’s Artist Ride
What began as a trail ride in 1984 celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009. But the Artist Ride near Wall, South Dakota, has never been an ordinary photo-op. Fifty artists are invited each year to “gather scrap” of knowledgeable models dressed in period attire as mountain men, cowboys, Indians—you name it—all against the backdrop of South Dakota’s Cheyenne River country. Artists fill out a “wish list” of material they would like to see and the models do their best to pack accordingly. Hatzell, a graduate of the American Academy of Art who has an eye, and plenty of lenses, for Western history, has been the ride’s director since 1997.
Best Heritage Brand Launch
Miller Ranch Apparel
The popular saying goes, “Everything old is new again.” Yet not many have the requisite knowledge of a past success in order to revive a brand for today’s world. Miller was renamed Rocky Mountain Clothing Co. in 1992, and seven years later, the company mailed the last catalogue first started by Philip Miller 76 years earlier. Yet Miller Western Wear had made some pretty cool shirts in its past, and the executives at Rocky Mountain began collecting them. With each new addition, they began examining the company’s legacy and they noticed a gap in the Western Wear market: high-quality shirts with traditional Western styling. What better way to fill that gap than to revive the legacy brand as Miller Ranch? For allowing the past to be a window into its future, we are proud to honor Rocky Mountain Clothing Co. with our first-ever Best Heritage Brand Launch award.
Best Living Women’s Period Clothing Fashion Designer
One designer who constantly reminds us how to infuse the pioneer styles with modern-day looks is Michelle Oster at Cattle Kate. The Prairie Blouse was made for the 1800s businesswoman, yet the posture-defining ruffles and hidden button front is a style that still demands respect today. The Sagebrush or Checkered Swisher Skirts can be paired up with more contemporary-styled shirts for that casual-yet-dressy look (and the skirts have inseam side pockets too). If you want to go all-out Victorian, you can combine these styles and others with attire such as the silk Walking Jacket with its small piping and back ruffled peplum. A pair of lace-up Frontier Boots completes the look. For outerwear, the wool Carriage Coat still keeps you warm with its full frontier length, tucked leg of mutton sleeves and two kick pleats in the back. The pioneer offerings are as authentic as the store’s pioneer name—in memory of Ellen Watson, an independent Wyoming homesteader hanged by vigilantes for alleged cattle rustling in 1889.
Best Living Men's Period Clothing Fashion Designer
Michael J. Guli
Talk about authentic fashion! Many styles today owe their look to an earlier style, but Michael J. Guli of River Crossing takes the Metis Coat (shown), for example, to show off the influence of two different worlds. Combining the cut and fit of men’s European designs with the artistic qualities of American Indian beaded, floral and geometric patterns, these wonderful-looking coats walk the walk and establish a unique artistic interaction between two disparate cultures. Bravo Metis, and bravo Michael Guli!
Best Living Western Men’s Fashion Designer
New York City-based Acorn Clothing Corp. may be one of the best-kept secrets in men’s Western shirts. For nearly 30 years Acorn founder and designer Bob Goldfeder has produced meticulously tailored shirts available in just a handful of Western stores that cater to the well-heeled cowboy. Using the finest fabrics sourced from around the world, his limited-edition shirts typically retail from $140 to more than $200. Earlier this year, Goldfeder introduced a new lower-priced line of premium Western shirts that are turning up in a wider range of stores. Same classic yet classy styling, premium buttons and luxurious fabrics as some of his high-end shirts, the new Acorn shirts start at about $60!
READERS’ CHOICE: Michael Ryan of Ryan Michael • Kennesaw, GA • ryanmichael.com
Best Living Western Women’s Fashion Designer
The hand-painted leather skirts and jackets by Patricia Wolf are truly wearable art. In fact, some of her apparel designs actually end up displayed on the walls of customers’ homes when they’re not being worn. Her collections of leather, silk, Tencel and cotton jackets, shirts, tops and skirts are always tastefully done, well constructed and recognizable. A particular favorite of ours is her Cowgirl Cruiser lambskin jacket with Tibetan wool collar.
Best Living Western Accessory Designer
Craftsmanship, style and legacy are among the hallmarks of silversmith extraordinaire Clint Orms, of Clint Orms Engravers & Silversmiths in Ingram, Texas. Orms makes collectible Western buckles and other accessories that are classic, clean and exquisitely detailed. Having grown up in the Western apparel industry in Texas, Clint draws on traditional cowboy and Western designs, and makes them his own. Many of his buckle designs are inspired by...
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