Best of the West
- Written by True West Editors
- Published September 30, 2005
Here are the winners of our "2006 Best of the West." Sit back and see if your pick made the list.
Best Living Contemporary Western Artist
This San Francisco native-turned-Seattle resident keeps pushing the envelope. One of his most popular creations turned the Little Bighorn battle into a baseball box score (Sitting Bull got the victory; Custer took the loss). Love him or hate him, he gets attention by helping Western art—and history—cross over to mainstream America.
Readers’ Choice: William Matthews
Best Living Western Sculptor
The Montanan’s goal—“to tell the history, to make people aware of events during the forming of the West”—says it all. Westergard began sculpting in the early 1980s while working as a Western Union computer tech in Great Falls, Montana, and turned to art full time in 1988. Today, collectors of his well-researched bronzes include the National Park Service and the Harrison Western History Research Center at the University of California-Davis.
Readers’ Choice: Harry Jackson
Best Living Native American Artist
This Santa Fe resident gave up a promising career as a bingo caller to return to his true calling, art. Of course, the Oklahoma Sooners fan does it his own way. “I try to zig when everyone else zags,” he says. His contemporary acrylics are bright, beautiful and convey his Comanche heritage. Quanah Parker was his great-great grandfather.
Readers’ Choice: Bunky Echo Hawk
Best Living Cowboy Poet
A lot of cowboy poets have ridden horses, some have even cowboyed, but how many have mounted bareback broncs for a living? Zarzyski has rodeoed in amateur, pro and senior circuits. He has also been honored (for poetry) with the 2005 Montana Governor’s Arts Award for Literature, the 2004 Spur Award and the 1997 Western Heritage Wrangler Award. Hey, poetry’s somewhat easier on one’s bones.
Readers’ Choice: Baxter Black
Best Living Western Novelist
It’s not the awards he’s won (though he has a passel of them), nor the number of books that he’s written (and there are many of those) that make Elmer Kelton the Best Living Western novelist. It’s the characters. Men like Hewey Calloway of The Good Old Boys who is back in Elmer’s newest novel Six Bits a Day, a story of Hewey and brother Walter before their Good Old Boys adventure. Years of agriculture journalism give Elmer’s stories that ring of authenticity lacking in some Westerns. Over the decades, he’s cut to the grit of the lifestyle with titles such as The Time it Never Rained and The Day the Cowboys Quit. We can only hope Elmer never quits himself.
Readers’ Choice: Elmer Kelton
Best Living Western Historical Novelist
Richard S. Wheeler
With books on historical characters such as Meriwether Lewis, Marcus Reno and Bat Masterson, you may think Richard S. Wheeler is a writer of history books. In truth, he is a novelist who can weave a story around a real person or develop someone from scratch, as he did with his most enduring creation Barnaby Skye, a British Navy deserter who finds his way to the American West where he has a cantankerous horse named Jawbone and two Indian wives, Victoria of the Crows and Mary of the Shoshonis. This Montana writer is a master at putting his fictional folk in mining towns, and he throws in religion and some well-drawn women for a complex view of life in the historical West.
Best Living Western Nonfiction Writer
Robert M. Utley
If you read Western history and do not have at least half a dozen books on your shelf by Robert M. Utley, you simply don’t know the meaning of Western history, for he is a master. He’s lived with the research and stories and memories of Georgie Custer longer than Libbie lived with the man himself. He’s brought to life the drudgery of the frontier soldier, outlaws, mountain men and the incomparable Oglala holy man Sitting Bull. And he’s got a heck of an infectious smile, too!
Readers’ Choice: Robert M. Utley
Best Western Screenwriter
Lincoln County, New Mexico’s a long way from Waterbury, Connecticut, but this yankee’s at home putting the West on the silver screen. His credits include Young Guns, Thunderheart, the Western Heritage Wrangler Award-winning Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and the Spur Award-winning Hidalgo, not to mention Rebels, which chronicles Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys.
Best University Press
University of Oklahoma Press
The first university press established in the Southwest has more wins than Barry Switzer. Consider the range of recent Spur winners: D.L. Birchfield’s Field of Honor (Best Western Novel, 2005); Ernest Haycox Jr.’s On A Silver Desert: The Life of Ernest Haycox (Best Western Nonfiction-Biography, 2004); and Will Bagley’s Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Best Western Nonfiction-Historical, 2003).
Readers’ Choice: University of Oklahoma
Best Publisher of Western Fiction
Tom Doherty’s company, Forge Books, tops the list as Best Publisher of Western Fiction because it publishes books by both Elmer Kelton and Richard S. Wheeler, and it has released hardcover titles on subjects ranging from an undertaker’s wife to prehistoric people by a host of other award-winning writers: Loren D. Estleman, Lucia St. Clair Robson, Frederick Chiaventone, W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, Mike Blakely, Win Blevins, David and Aimée Thurlo, Robert Vaughan, Jory Sherman and Bill Brooks. Besides, Forge keeps cranking out Western fiction in a market so soft, it isn’t even buttery.
Readers’ Choice: Forge Books
AZ: Museum of Northern Arizona
This is one place where being “stoned” has artistic connotations. In Flagstaff, explore the hows and whys of an ancient visual language by early inhabitants, who recorded life in the form of petroglyphs (chiseled into stone) and pictographs (drawings on stone). For the adventurous, the museum offers educational day trips and week-long expeditions into remote areas of the Colorado Plateau.
Readers’ Choice: Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ
CA: Museum of the American West
The myth of the American West resides in a unique visual medium in this Los Angeles museum’s latest exhibit on the Spaghetti Westerns—notably those of Sergio Leone. Artifacts, clips, costumes and posters—not limited to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—are showcased. Contrast those myths with the True West, those of the pioneers, cowboys and immigrants, who trekked onward and created a new nation.
Readers’ Choice: Museum of the American West
CO: Southern Ute Museum
Ute storytellers narrate the four seasons of the circle of life at this museum in Ignacio. This fascinating oral history is located inside a tipi, recited via a modern invention, the DVD. Personalized tours and arts and crafts workshops can also be scheduled. Visit the Bill and Melinda (Gates) computer lab to access further historical information. The gift shop offers authentic Ute beadworks and handcrafts.
Readers’ Choice: Colorado History Museum in Denver, CO
ID: National Oregon-California Trail Interpretive Center
Montpelier, Idaho, where time pauses circa 1850. Once the journey took months, but today’s visitors can camp out under twinkling stars and then travel on an interactive wagon trip, heeding the call to “Go West,” all in the air-conditioned comfort of the 21st century. The railroads soon followed the trails, bringing still more settlers who yearned for their own parcel of land.
Readers’ Choice: Idaho Historical Museum in Boise, ID
KS: Boot Hill Museum at Front Street
Experience life at the end of the cattle trail inside this “Queen of the Cowtowns” living history museum in Dodge City. During the summer season, shoot-outs erupt more frequently than Old Faithful. Damsels grace the Long Branch, trailed by a chuckwagon full of tasty grub. Snag your own bottle of Prickly Ash Bitters—the cure-all for everything from scraped knees to broken hearts.
Readers’ Choice: Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita, KS
MN: Northfield Historical Society Museum
Stand on the teller’s side of the fully restored First National Bank in Northfield and imagine the day of the Great Northfield Raid. That year, in the “new” age of telephones, typewriters and elevators, local citizens had only read about brazen bank robberies. Little did they know.... Hey, where else can visitors buy a Jesse James Bobble Head Doll?
Readers’ Choice: Northfield Historical Society Museum
MO: Steamship Arabia Museum
Time stood still for 132 years until that fateful moment in 1988 when the perfectly preserved daily household goods aboard the ill-fated Steamship Arabia were resurrected from 45 feet of cold Missouri River mud. Everything from the prosaic doorknob and fine china to still edible bottles of pickles and fruit once again see daylight in this Kansas City museum. This is one place where ogling is allowed.
Readers’ Choice: Jesse James Farm in Kearney, MO
MT: Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center
How did L&C find the “right” coast without OnStar®? The Great Falls center offers monthly star-gazing parties to teach the casual observer to plot a course using the night sky. Enjoy the short trail side chats about the challenges the Corps of Discovery encountered from navigating treacherous waterfalls to cataloging newly discovered plant life. Check ahead to see what excursions are scheduled.
Readers’ Choice: Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena, MT
NE: Museum of the Fur Trade
Located at the site of an original trading post, near Chadron, it’s no wonder this museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the North American fur trade. But it does an excellent job of it, with its exhibits on trade goods, munitions and costumes. Our favorite is the museum’s garden plot, which grows melons, beans and squash, using heritage seeds from the original fruit that was once planted by Indians of the Missouri Valley. It drives home the point that Indian agriculture brought sustenance for trading post crews.
NV: Nevada State Museum
Explore millions of years of Nevada geological history, beginning when the sea carved its mark upon the land at this Carson City museum. Study the skeletal remains of a mammoth. Venture through a genuine ghost town and underground mine. Along the way, see frontier history unfold. The last Friday of each month, watch Old Number “1” press (forged in 1869) mint coins.
NM: Hubbard Museum of the American West
Ten thousand and one ways to accessorize a horse. The Anne Stradling collection in Ruidoso exhibits it all. In classes geared for the next generation, learn how to draw the magnificent four-footed “beast” that carried the cowboy up the cattle trails. For the brave, this is the place to come face-to-face with legendary lawmen.
Readers’ Choice: Hubbard Museum of the American West
ND: Pioneer Trails Regional Museum
Oh, give me a home where the dino once roamed, and please, let me discover a bone! Investigate the ill-fated 1864 James L. Fisk expedition or follow David S. Stanley’s 1873 railroad survey at this Bowman museum. See how homesteading the unforgiving Northern plains produced a particular breed of rancher. Take a stroll through the native plant gardens along the Prairie Walk.
Readers’ Choice: North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck
Remington Arms, Browning, Colt, Charles Russell and Frederic Remington all have a spot at the Bartlesville museum that began as a place to house a beloved airplane. Here, founder Frank Phillips sought to preserve the history of the West. Drive through the 3,600-acre wildlife preserve—the native home to bison, elk and longhorn cattle—on the road to the museum.
Readers’ Choice: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City
OR: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
More than four walls, the Oregon City museum presents a dramatization of what travelers may have encountered along the trail. Experience “hands on” loading of month’s worth of provisions into a wagon bed. Children can try out games and toys that youngsters their age played—before the invention of the phrase “Are we there yet?”
Readers’ Choice: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
SD: The Journey Museum
At this Rapid City museum, witness archaeologists build a snapshot of the past as you journey through time, back to when the great lizards thundered across lush land. Eons later, a Lakota storyteller recounts her nation’s life of a people surviving on the mighty buffalo. Travel on to the discovery of gold and the outsiders who descended onto the Black Hills of the Lakota homeland.
TX: Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
If you think picture postcards are only for tourists, check out how Texas History is preserved on the lowly card (all 574 of them). The Austin museum also contrasts the face of small town America with the business executive. Exhibits are constantly on the move throughout the museum’s three floors, while computers allow virtual access to museums and historical sites across the state.
Readers’ Choice: Buckhorn Saloon & Museum in San Antonio, TX
UT: Utah Museum of Fine Arts
Fine art collections, docent-led tours, world history, teacher education and summer classes for kids, this Salt Lake City museum has it all. The visitor can travel through the art of Asia as well as compare and contrast the legends of the American West with documented history.
WA: Chelan County Historical Museum and Pioneer Village
Investigate 9,000 years of natural history and artifacts of the Columbia and Snake River Valleys in Cashmere. Learn history through a scavenger hunt. Outside, watch water tumble over an historic waterwheel. Stroll through vintage railroad cars, and visit the Pioneer Village. Apple days are celebrated the first weekend of October. Plan a day, pack a picnic lunch and snack on apple pie.
WY: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
A six for one—Buffalo Bill, Western Art, Plains Indians, Cody Firearms and Draper Natural History encompass the Cody museums in addition to the Harold McCracken Research Library. Be sure to give a listen to the music of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Cowboy Band. BB’s Iowa childhood home, a well seasoned traveler (visit to discover why), rests comfortably outside the center.
Readers’ Choice: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
Best Vintage Clothing Manufacturer
Rockmount Ranch Wear
A family-owned business since 1946, Rockmount Ranch Wear of Denver, Colorado, makes vintage-inspired shirts with integrity and style worn by cowboys, rock stars and wanna-bes. The originator of the snap fastener (in lieu of buttons), “Papa” Jack Weil blazed a trail through the West, supplying retailers with fine hats, clothing and bolo ties.
Readers’ Choice: Wahmaker
Best Jean Trend Setter
Rocky Mountain Clothing Co.
Denver-based Rocky Mountain Clothing began as the Stockman Farmer Supply Company in 1919; it’s now part of the Miller Industries. Rockies jeans nip in at the waist and have room in the seat, making them comfortable when riding a horse. The company’s Cinch Jeans are popular with younger rodeo cowboys, while Cruel Girl jeans are aimed at the junior market.
Readers’ Choice: Rocky Mountain Clothing Co.’s Cruel Girl Jeans
Best Custom Hatmaker
Rand Custom Hats
Located in Billings, Montana, Rand Hats reflects years of tradition and craftsmanship, descending from a line of hatters spanning over a century of experience. Each custom-made hat offers unlimited brim options, beaver felt bodies and unique finishes, including the standard distressed finish. Edge beading, horsehair stampede strings, ribbon trims and other details make a difference. Rand’s Western, Cattleman’s, Vintage and Ladies styles are incomparable.
Readers’ Choice: Texas Hatters
Best Hatmaker-Large Manufacturer
Folks don’t call this company maker the Boss of the Plains for nothing. The classic styles of John B. Stetson have been covering many a rancher’s head since 1865, when Stetson rented a room, bought tools and $10 worth of fur, and launched his company. Stetson offers hats for every type of style, including an anniversary fur felt hat to celebrate its 140th birthday this year.
Readers’ Choice: Stetson
Best Custom Bootmaker
An epicurean of artistic cowboy boot design, Canadian bootmaker Tony Benatar of Toronto launched Liberty Boots in the 1980s and has already made boot history. Purveyor of the snazziest designs, combining luscious leathers, cutwork, inlay and pitiado (an almost lost art involving embroidery with white cactus fiber), his boots have a clean, elegant quality adorned with overlay, lacing and multiple stitching. Liberty Boots favors designs from the 1940-1950s, so the look is always timeless.
Readers’ Choice: Rocketbuster Boots
Best Bootmaker-Large Manufacturer
Lucchese boot Co.
Texas bootmaker Lucchese credits its success to founder Sam Lucchese, who came to America from Italy in 1880 to make boots of uncompromising quality. Since 1883, the Lucchese label has been worn by presidents, film stars and cowboys, as the boots’ comfort is legendary, thanks to a unique patented last and the best materials. Today’s colorful collection includes Charlie Horse for women, Lucchese 2000 and their Classics, offering wide choices in leathers and finishes.
Readers’ Choice: Lucchese Boot Co.
Best Leather Goods Manufacturer
You’ve seen them in Western stores across America: stunning handbags, overnight cases, briefcases, decorative pillows and gift accessories, all in hand-carved and embellished leather in the true Western tradition. This Florida-based manufacture understood just what the market needed and set out to develop over 450 different designs at affordable prices, offering stylish choices in leather colors and trims with conchos, fringes and studs—all backed by a lifetime guarantee.
Readers’ Choice: Scully
Best Western Wear Store
Texas Jack’s Wild West Outfitter
Step back in time to Fredericksburg, Texas, and indulge your fancy at Texas Jack’s, that fine purveyor of period Western clothing and firearms—originals and reproductions. A veritable institution in the Texas Hill Country with over 6,000 square feet of display, Jack’s supports SASS and other shooting organizations while offering the very best labels in men’s and women’s frontier attire. The store’s online presence offers great choices, plus sale items and the same friendly service you’ll find in their store. Great duds and shootin’ irons to fill every need.
Readers’ Choice: Texas Jack’s Wild West Outfitter
Best Western Shirt Maker
There’s just something special about a Stubbs’ shirt: maybe it’s the fit, the look or the details. Not that this Dallas manufacturer doesn’t make nice looking trousers and skirts, too, but it’s the shirts (sport, dress or formal) that built the legend. They’re made of the finest fabrics, like cotton, tencel and bemberg, and feature superlative styling, some with interchangeable button strips and cufflinks. For those who wear the classic style of the old frontier, Stubbs sets the standard for period elegance. Their Western shirts are absolute cowboy class.
Readers’ Choice: Wrangler
Best Pro Rodeo
Cheyenne Frontier Days
They call this one “the daddy of ’em all,” and it lives up to that status each July. Cheyenne is pure cowboy most of the time, but especially during the annual PRCA extravaganza, featuring rodeo’s top names and Harry Vold’s dynamite bucking stock. In 1897, a local newspaper called the event “the greatest and most successful occasion ever celebrated in the West.” That hasn’t changed.
Readers’ Choice: Cheyenne Frontier Days
Best Circuit Rodeo
Cody Nite Rodeo
From kids riding stick horses to cowboys on bucking bulls, the Cody Nite Rodeo has all the thrills of down-in-the-dirt entertainment. It takes place nightly from June 1 to August 31. And this isn’t some fly-by-night operation either, because there’s been a nightly summer rodeo in Cody for the past 60 years. It’s a place for younger cowboys to hone their skills and experienced riders to find some adulation.
Readers’ Choice: Longhorn World Championship Rodeo in Nashville, TN
Best Ranch Rodeo
World Championship Ranch Rodeo
Asked about pro rodeo cowboys, a ranch hand participating for bragging rights in this annual event in Amarillo, Texas, said, “They’re cocky sons-of-bitches.” If you want honesty and a real treat watching real cowboys/cowgirls ply their trade, the championship for working cowhands at the Amarillo Convention Center is a must. Aside from some profanity and Copenhagen, the Working Ranch Cowboys Association’s World Series is family friendly.
Readers’ Choice: World Championship Ranch Rodeo
Best Western Film Festival
Lone Pine Western Film Festival
Since 1920, Hollywood has loved Lone Pine, California. John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Steve McQueen and Randolph Scott walked, and rode, this country, with several classics (The Gunfighter, High Sierra, The Ox-Bow Incident, Bad Day at Black Rock) filmed here. There’s no better place to hold a Western film festival, and Lone Pine’s done a great job for 16 years.
Readers’ Choice: Lone Pine Western Film Festival
Best Western Festival
Festival of the West
March in Arizona isn’t just spring-training baseball. It’s cowboys, buffalo hunters, Western authors, Western musicians, Western re-enactors, Western movie and TV stars, and Western shopping. It’s all things Western, a fun-filled gathering that showcases why we still love the Old West. Check out the 16th annual show next year, from March 16-19 at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix.
Best Old West Re-enactment
Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson live! For better than a decade, Bob Charnes, Dale Charnes and Corky Corkran have been reliving—and making—history with their authentic re-creations of the Wild West. This Mesa-based organization has its own Western set, and the group has performed everywhere from Tombstone to the Super Bowl (pregame show, not the ballgame).
Readers’ Choice: Helldorado Days in Tombstone, AZ
Best Mountain Man Rendezvous
Fort Bridger, WY Labor Day Weekend
Woodsmoke drifts from the fire pit in the Bridger Trading Post, and drums pound in the Indian village where dancers flatten the grass under their fast-moving moccasins. The most difficult thing about attending the Labor Day Fort Bridger Mountain Man Rendezvous is finding a place to park in the tiny community that plays host. Buckskinners blow off blackpowder, traders hawk their wares and you can buy a cap or a pot, a blanket or a shirt as you keep an eye peeled for Old Gabe himself; some of these guys (and gals) look grizzly enough to be the 200-year-old mountaineer.
Readers’ Choice: 1883 Mountain Man Rendezvous in Riverton, WY
Best Western Auction
Brian Lebel’s Cody Old West Show & Auction
Brian Lebel is one of the great collectors of Old West artifacts, and this annual show (next year’s biggie, June 22-24), in the Wyoming burg Buffalo Bill Cody helped found, is the place to be. Typically, you’ll find the best collectors, historians and tourists on hand, looking over the best art, firearms and Western memorabilia. Even the show’s catalogue is a collector’s item.
Readers’ Choice: Brian Lebel’s Cody Old West Show & Auction
Best Tourist Attraction (Non-National Park)
Devil’s Tower National Monument
South Dakota likes to claim it, but this landmark is squarely in Wyoming. American Indians call the rock monolith Bear’s Lodge, and that is the name given by the area’s first cartographer, Valentine T. McGillycuddy in 1875. But this stone pillar—the first national monument in the country—will celebrate its centennial in 2006 under the name Devil’s Tower, a moniker that’s been around as long as it’s been a monument. The site is sacred to American Indians and a magnet for rock climbers. For the most part, the users get along. But if you suggest a name change or a ban on rock climbing, that’s sure to set off a media frenzy.
Readers’ Choice: Old Sacramento State Historic Park
Best Western Train Ride
Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
The narrow gauge tracks of the Durango-Silverton railroad cling to the granite walls above the Animas River that crashes and foams in the gorge below, making this one of the most scenic and exhilarating train rides in the West. Movie scenes have been filmed where the train breaks out along the high line of the Animas Canyon. Riding the train these days involves a “stress test on the coaches” as passengers crowd to the river side of the cars for a view of the spectacular canyon below with its blue, green and foaming white waters.
Readers’ Choice: Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Best Wagon Train Experience
Ben Kern’s Cherokee Trail Wagon Train
Expect to be up before daylight if you...
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