Best of the West
- Published September 30, 2004
Celebrating our 51st continual year of publication, True West again brings you our hoarded nuggets, our favorite out-of-the-way secrets: the best saloons, the top single action army revolver, the wildest Western towns—the West’s best, bar none. We also share your picks in the Readers’ Choice. So sit back and feast your eyes on the best in the West. We know you’ll be glad you did.
Best Living Contemporary Western Artist
Dream a Technicolor vision of the idealized West with cowboys on horseback, cattle and high country, then capture it all on glowing canvas with unerring honesty and skill. A longtime member of Cowboy Artists of America and a major award winner at the National Academy of Western Art, this Arizona painter paints the myth and the reality. Just possibly as good as it gets.
Readers’ Choice: Bob Boze Bell
Best Living Western Sculptor
Born to a California ranching family, McCain decided he wasn’t cut out to be a premed student in 1961 and became a starving artist instead. He’s not starving these days, and his bronzes The Cowboy, a tribute to the working cowhand, and Invocation, a mammoth Indian appeal to the Gods, have become symbols of what Western art can (and should) be.
Best Living Native American Artist
The first to depict a buffalo dancer with an ice cream cone, Fritz Scholder is widely considered the padre of the New American Indian Art Movement. His art has spoken against the cliché of the noble savage ever since he first painted the Indian “real, not red.” No other artist so fully depicts American Indians’ struggle to maintain their traditions while living in modern society.
Best Living Cowboy Poet
Winner of the first Spur Award for poetry from Western Writers of America (Western Settings in 2001), this humble professor is as eloquent as most cowboy poets are crude, a combination, if you will, of Jack Schaefer and Dylan Thomas. Besides, anyone who teaches English, coaches baseball and waxes poetic about Jesse James gets our vote.
Readers’ Choice: Baxter Black
Best Living Western Novelist
So what if he’s won seven Spur Awards and Western Writers of America voted him “the greatest Western author of all time,” Kelton gets this award because a lot of folks—our editor and his father among them—think his books are one fine read.
Readers’ Choice: Elmer Kelton
Best Living Western Historical Novelist
Having trouble staying awake? Read two books and call me in the morning. Retired physician Coldsmith has a sure prescription to keep even the sleepiest pardner awake. Using his blazing quick pen, from the first Spanish Bit novel to his latest The Pipestone Quest, Coldsmith writes historically accurate page-turners. He is a must read for anyone who relishes a good Western.
Best Living Western Nonfiction Writer
Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet writes about some of the worst thugs ever to strap on a gun belt. His biographies of John Wesley Hardin, Pat Garrett and others are as insightful as his prose is polished.
Readers’ Choice: Bob Boze Bell
Best Publisher of Western Fiction
Forge Books New York, New York
What do you get when you combine the courage to publish Western literature in today’s soft Western publishing market with a stable of outstanding Western writers? You get Forge Books, that’s what. Enough said!
Best Publisher of Western Nonfiction
University of Oklahoma Press Norman, Oklahoma
Although the University of Nebraska Press runs a close second, the University of Oklahoma Press wins this one by a nose because of its large inventory of backlisted Western titles and because our editor has so many of them in his home research library.
Readers’ Choice: Tri Star-Boze in Phoenix, AZ
Best Western Bookstores
Arizona: T.A. Swinford, Bookseller, Avondale
California: Argonaut Book Shop, San Francisco
Colorado: Colorado Pioneer Books, Englewood
Idaho: The Yesteryear Shoppe, Nampa
Kansas: Mostly Books, Pittsburg
Minnesota: Lien’s Bookshop, Minneapolis
Missouri: Spivey’s Rare Books, Old Maps & Fine Art, Kansas City
Nebraska: Plains Trading Co. Booksellers, Valentine
New Mexico: Dumont Maps & Books of the West, Santa Fe
Oklahoma: Abalache Book & Antique Shop, Oklahoma City
Oregon: Powell’s City of Books, Portland
Texas: Aldredge Book Store, Dallas
Utah: Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore, Salt Lake City
Washington: Arthur H. Clark Company, Spokane
Wyoming: Valley Bookstore, Jackson
Best Retro Clothing Manufacturer
CadZoots Downey, California
David “Cad” Kadison has created fine Western clothing with a vintage flair for you cowboys and cowgirls who know “cool” when you see it. Shirts from the Billy Bob Thornton American Originals series, the Roy Rogers Signature series and the Dale Evans Signature series feature stitched arrow smile pockets, Western-style piping and diamond or round pearl snaps. We know “cool,” and these babies are way “cool.”
Best Jean Trend Setter
Lawman Western Los Angeles, California
Lawman has stolen the show with their jeans for surfer cowboys. And all of their sexy styles for gals are hot hot hot. If you don’t believe us, check out the cowboys and cowgirls wearing Lawman Western at your favorite watering hole. Going or coming, they’ll be looking good.
Best Western Shirt Maker
Rockmount Ranch Wear Denver, Colorado
Since Jack A. Weil founded Rockmount in 1946, the company has been both a leader and an innovator in Western shirt design, and made the first Western shirts with snaps. Rockmount’s signature look is the longest running, Western production shirt design in the country, a distinction that earned the shirt a place in the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection.
Best Regional Western Wear Store
Texas Jack’s Wild West Outfitters Fredericksburg, Texas
Named for John Burwell “Texas Jack” Omohundro, famed 19th-century army scout, this king-size Western emporium has been dubbed the Greatest Store on Earth. Whether you’re looking for vintage cowboy togs or an 1838 Colt Paterson reproduction, Texas Jack’s can fill your needs.
Hatman Jack’s Wichita Hat Works Wichita, Kansas
Need a new hat? Since sending one’s head in for a custom fit isn’t feasible, call Hatman Jack’s. With a single call, Jack can customize the perfect hat whether it be a contemporary or traditional cowboy style. HMJ’s has created originals for Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Luciano Pavarotti, Charlie Daniels and others. No smoke and mirrors veiling his work.
Readers’ Choice: Stetson in Garland, TX
Best Leatherware Manufacturer
American West Pompano Beach, Florida
Founded in 1986, American West has been the leader in Western-style leather handbags, travel wear and small leather goods for nearly 18 years. The company specializes in elegant leather goods that are hand-tooled by Guarani Indian craftsmen. Whether you’re a cowboy or cowgirl, American West’s briefcases and handbags will complement whatever you wear, from jeans to a suit.
Best Bootmaker—Large Manufacturer
Lucchese Boot Company San Antonio, Texas
The Lucchese boots have been known for quality ever since Sam Lucchese, Sr. founded the company in 1883. But it was his grandson’s study of the human foot and from that knowledge, his design of the exclusive “twisted cone last” that put the company head and shoulders above other large boot manufacturers. Whether made from traditional leather or exotic skins such as kangaroo, elephant or stingray, Lucchese boots fit like a glove.
Best Bootmaker—One Man Shop
John Weinkauf Washoe Valley, Nevada
A native of Tucson, Arizona, John Weinkauf has been working in leather for 35 years. He has been making custom boots in his cozy Washoe Valley, Nevada, shop for 21 years. A true artisan from the old school, John has been making custom boots for his friends and a growing constituency of fans since he moved up to Nevada to get away for a change of scenery. Unpretentious and traditional, John also has a creative, wild streak in his work, which makes for some interesting departures from old style bootmaking. John loves his work and it shows. (He’s moving his shop to Kerrville, Texas, later this year.)
Best Custom Bootmaker
Tres Outlaws Boot Company El Paso, Texas
For overlaid or inlaid, filigree-style, hand-tooled boots that look as though they should be in the Louvre, rather than on some cowboy’s feet, Tres Outlaws is the place to go. The craftsmen at this company don’t just make boots; they create art. And the rich and famous who pay big bucks to own a pair of Tres Outlaws’ boots reads like a who’s who of Hollywood.
Readers’ Choice: Bowman’s Wilson Boot Co. in Livingston, MT
Cheyenne Frontier Days Cheyenne, Wyoming
Lose yourself in what has been the world’s largest rodeo since 1897. Organized almost entirely by nearly 2,500 volunteers, the “Daddy of ’em All” closes each July with parades, chuckwagon cook-offs, Western art and nine PRCA rodeos with purses reaching one million dollars. Record crowds cheer rodeo athletes by day and hot Country and Western entertainment by night. It’s where to feel like a cowboy even if you’re not.
Readers’ Choice: National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, NV
Oklahoma Prison Rodeo McAlester, Oklahoma
Fun times and hard time, hard labor and a Labor Day weekend institution. Held inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, this is PRCA’s only sanctioned “behind the walls” event, where card-carrying cowboys as well as inmates compete.
Readers’ Choice: Cody Nite Rodeo in Cody, WY
Best Horse Trainer
Buck Brannaman Sheridan, Wyoming
He was the inspiration for the film The Horse Whisperer. Buck Brannaman drinks his coffee black, has a dispute over environmental damage on his Wyoming ranch caused by coal bed methane development and can whisper instructions to a horse, making even the wildest animal settle down in a few short hours. His horse training technique has been so effective, some wives and employees want to try it on their husbands and bosses.
Best Dude Ranches
Arizona: Elkhorn Ranch, Tucson
California: Coffee Creek Ranch, Trinity Center
Colorado: Vista Verde Ranch, Steamboat Springs
Idaho: Diamond D Ranch, Stanley
Montana: Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, Gallatin Gateway
New Mexico: Double E Guest Ranch, Gila
Oregon: Rock Springs Guest Ranch, Bend
Texas: Cibolo Creek Ranch, Big Bend
Utah: Wind Walker Guest Ranch, Spring City
Wyoming: Paradise Guest Ranch, Buffalo
Best Cap and Ball Revolver Reproduction
1851 Colt Navy Navy Arms Co. • Martinsburg, West Virginia
Introduced in 1959 by Navy Arms, the .36 caliber 1851 Colt Navy revolver started the replica business. Colt’s original served during the Civil War and traveled west to tame the frontier. The ’51 Navy was Wild Bill Hickok’s favorite, and Navy Arms’ well crafted, faithful replica is ours.
Readers’ Choice: Model 300, .44 caliber 1860 Army brass revolver, Taylor’s & Co., Winchester, VA
Best Cartridge Conversion Revolver Reproduction
Richards-Mason 1851 Navy Conversion Cimarron F.A. Co. • Fredericksburg, Texas
Six-guns converted from percussion ignition to metallic cartridge played a bigger part in the Wild West than they’ve previously been given credit for. Now, thanks to top-notch reproductions like Cimarron’s Richards-Mason 1851 Navy Conversion, they’re re-winning the West, especially in cowboy action shooting. Cimarron’s handsome replica has captured the authentic lines and feel of the real deal.
Readers’ Choice: Richards-Mason 1851 Navy Conversion, Cimarron F.A. Co., Fredericksburg, TX
Best Old West Repeating Rifle Reproduction
1860 Henry Cimarron F.A. Co. • Fredericksburg, Texas
Cimarron’s Civil War-era, 1860 Henry replica is a spittin’ image of those martial rimfire arms that made the trek westward during our early frontier years. Detail perfect and beautifully finished—complete with military sling swivels, “U.S.” and inspector’s stampings of “B. Tyler Henry” and “Charles G. Chapman”—these rifles are now chambered in either .44-40 or .45 Colt centerfire rounds.
Readers’ Choice: Henry Big Boy, Henry Repeating Arms Co., Brooklyn, NY
Best Old West Single Shot Rifle Reproduction
Model 1874 Hartford Sporting Rifle C. Sharps Arms Co. • Big Timber, Montana
If Christian Sharps were alive today, we bet he’d be proud to stamp his name on C. Sharps Arms’ reproductions of his company’s famed buffalo guns. Powerful, ruggedly handsome and extremely accurate, their Model 1874 Hartford Sporting Rifle authentically recreates the epitome of the boss gun of the 1870’s hide hunters.
Readers’ Choice: Rolling Block Buffalo Rifle, Navy Arms Co., Martinsburg, W.V.
Best Single Action Army Revolver
Single Action Army United States Fire-Arms Mfg. Co. • Hartford, Connecticut
Following in the historic hoofprints of the Old West’s most famous workhorse six-gun, the fit and finish of United States Fire-Arms’ “Peacemaker” reproduction is without equal. The company’s SAA is accurate, reliable and reasonably priced for such quality. Sam Colt’s got to be spinning over this handsome clone.
Readers’ Choice: Colt .45 Single Action Army, Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Mfg. Co., Hartford, CT
Best Frontier Cartridge Revolver Reproduction
1875 Remington Hartford Armory • Collinsville, Connecticut
Exhibiting first-class workmanship, Hartford Armory’s 1875 Remington replica is a detail-perfect copy of the famed frontier six-shooter that tried to take some of the handgun market away from Colt in the late 19th century. Hartford’s quality clone is not only suitable for cowboy action shooting, but its beefy construction also allows for use as a powerful hunting revolver as well.
Best Authentic Gunleather Artisan
Jake Johnson Glendale, California
Moviemakers wanting the very best in Old West gunleather often call on Jake Johnson for his handcrafted gun rigs. He’s outfitted films, such as Hidalgo, Wild Bill, The Quick and the Dead, and the History Channel’s Wild West Tech series. Prices are competitive for such quality, and the finished product looks like it fell out of a time machine.
Readers’ Choice: SA Gun Leather in Wheaton, IL
Best Mounted Shooting Event
CMSA World Championship Scottsdale, Arizona
Got a hankerin’ to see about 300 of the nation’s top cowboy mounted shooters and their spirited horses compete for around $75,000 in money and awards—including saddles and guns? Then head on down to WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona, November 24-28, for the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association’s (CMSA) World Championship. Lots of action, Saturday night entertainment, Western vendors ... it’s a blast.
Readers’ Choice: End of Trail in Norco, CA
Best Single Action Shooting Match
Winter Range Phoenix, Arizona
We like Winter Range with its authentic scenery, mild Arizona winter weather, cowboy action and mounted shooting, and other Western doin’s—all a part of this frontier encampment and exhibition held in the beautiful Sonoran Desert, just north of Phoenix, Arizona, on February 16-20. SASS’ National Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting is produced by the Arizona Territorial Company of Rough Riders.
Readers’ Choice: End of Trail in Norco, CA
Arizona: Palace Restaurant & Saloon, Prescott
California: Viva Fresh Mexican Restaurant & Lounge, Burbank
Colorado: Buckhorn Exchange, Denver
Idaho: Pioneer Saloon, Ketchum
Kansas: Last Chance Bar & Grill, Caldwell
Minnesota: Dressen’s Saloon, Hay Creek
Montana: Bale of Hay Saloon, Virginia City
Nevada: Bucket O’Blood Saloon, Virginia City
New Mexico: Mine Shaft Tavern, Madrid
Oklahoma: Blue Belle Saloon & Restaurant, Guthrie
Oregon: Wild Hare Saloon & Café, Canby
South Dakota: Old Style Saloon #10, Deadwood
Texas: White Elephant Saloon, Fort Worth
Wyoming: The Virginian Hotel’s Shiloh Saloon, Medicine Bow
Best Roadside Attraction
Sandia Park, New Mexico
Best Roadside Attraction
Tinkertown Museum Sandia Park, New Mexico
Ross Ward had a unique vision, creating a miniature Western town (and circus) that draws 20,000 visitors each year at its off-the-beaten-path location on the Turquoise Trail. The 22-room museum houses a lot of oddities and is surrounded by walls made from 50,000 glass bottles. Why? Well, why not?
Readers’ Choice: Old Trail Town in Cody, WY
Best Western Train Ride
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Durango, Colorado
Cinders, mountains, sunlight, cold streams, a three-hour tour coming or going where even Gilligan could not get lost, and you have the recipe for a perfect day. We’d venture to say a good portion of you folks have never ridden an old-fashioned passenger train. (Commuter rides don’t count.) Pack up the family and camera, and book a ride on the D&SNGR.
Readers’ Choice: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, CO
Best Ghost Town
South Pass City, Wyoming
Gold boomtown and birthplace of women’s suffrage in Wyoming, South Pass City is long past its heyday of the 1860s. Although many of the town’s buildings remain, mining equipment litters the hillsides and the jail is still in working order, even if not in use.
Readers’ Choice: Silver City, ID
Best Stagecoach Ride
Virginia City Overland Stage Virginia City, Montana
Hold on to your hat as Scott and Dawn Hagedorn flick the lines over the backs of their team and the stagecoach lurches and picks up speed rolling out of Virginia City, Montana, and onto the rutted roads near Alder Gulch. You’ll be bounced and bumped into fellow travelers as the dust swirls through the windows and the harness jangles. Now this is a stagecoach ride.
Best Wagon Train Experience
Ben Kern’s Wagon Train Club Evansville, Wyoming
If you can get along with the sometimes cantankerous wagon boss (Ben Kern), you’ll travel old Western trails (Oregon, Mormon, California, Bozeman, Cherokee) the best way possible, riding in a covered wagon with steel-rimed tires (no rubber allowed) pulled by a couple of mules. Veteran travelers with Kern would say, in fact, that the wagon master is closely related to his mules—stubborn, determined and certain his way is always right.
Best Bar to People Watch
Greasewood Flats Scottsdale, Arizona
First off, Greasewood Flats is an outdoor saloon. During our editor’s first trip there, he saw one couple arrive in a Rolls-Royce, which they parked next to a bevy of tricked-out Harleys, whose riders had as much gray hair as he does. And with Coors costing only $2.25 a bottle, he was in hog heaven.
Best Western Riverboat Cruise
Lewis and Clark Cruise American West Steamboat Co. Portland, Oregon
If you’re into Lewis and Clark, this is the cruise for you. American West’s riverboat journey up the Columbia and Snake Rivers traces the Corps of Discovery’s route, while an onboard historian recounts the explorers’ adventures during stops at scenic and historical sites. As an added plus, the boat’s galley turns out tasty victuals, so even if you don’t like history, your appetite’s sure to be appeased.
Best Old West Coffee Company
New Mexico Piñon Coffee Co. Albuquerque, New Mexico
Another award for New Mexico Piñon Coffee could be the World’s Most Sexy Coffee, since there’s an aphrodisiac quality inherent in the piñon tree nut used in the company’s five-bean coffee blend. And unlike the drug Ecstasy, New Mexico Piñon Coffee is legal.
Readers’ Choice: Arbuckles’ Coffee in Tucson, AZ
Best Wild West Town
Remember, it’s pronounced Presskit. It may have lost its status as the capital the last time in 1889, but Whiskey Row is still around, only serving better food and libations than during those territorial days. It’s home to real cowboys, wanna-be cowboys and rodeo cowboys during the Prescott Frontier Days’ “World’s Oldest Rodeo.” Oldest? That’s debatable.
Readers’ Choice: Tombstone
One little hunk of gold plucked from the sawmill race in the American River by John Marshall in January 1848 altered the course of Western history and spawned a rush to California and the gold town of Coloma. These days, Coloma mines the pockets of tourists who come to the gold rush site to shake a pan for gold, raft, hike in the valley, purchase fresh produce or drink wine.
Readers’ Choice: Los Angeles
Tourists and real cowboys love this town between Cortez and Durango. It’s full of cool shops (not chains) and Victorian homes, plus it plays host to the annual Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest (the Ute Mountain Utes’ Bear Dance is nearby, too). And unlike most Western tourist towns, it doesn’t always smell like funnel cake.
Readers’ Choice: Leadville
If a local says he lives in Sun Valley despite his Ketchum address, you know you’re talking to a yuppie. Skiing kept Ketchum from going the way of other Idaho mining towns after their mines played out. These days, tourists provide the bucks and bedlam that earned the town its place in our “Best of the West.”
Readers’ Choice: Coeur d’Alene
Kansas is loaded with some great historic cattle towns, but we opt for this one. Although smaller than Wichita and not as well known as Dodge City, Ellsworth certainly savors its Western roots. The folks are friendly (even to Texans, unlike in 1873), and it doesn’t smell like cow-bleep all the time.
Readers’ Choice: Dodge City
Any town that throws back-to-back festivals, Defeat of Jesse James Days and the Rice County Steam & Gas Engine, Inc. Threshing Show, kicks butt. Okay, we don’t know what the heck a steam (or gas) thresher can actually show, but we certainly savvy Jesse James and think these Minnesotans can whup his butt again in 2004.
Readers’ Choice: Dundas
MT Red Lodge
From flyfishing and skiing to Western history and art, Red Lodge has it all, including great people (with a few oddballs thrown in), great beer and great lodgings (the Pollard Hotel and Rock Creek Resort top the list). About the only thing it lacks are pig races, but those are run just up the road in Bearcreek.
Readers’ Choice: Virginia City
Frank James and Annie Ralston eloped here. But if you’re not a Western romantic, even if you don’t care about the Union Pacific or Lewis and Clark, here are three other reasons we love this place: corn-fed beef, Gen. George Crook’s house and the College World Series. Play ball!
Readers’ Choice: Ogallala
NV Virginia City
Nah, it didn’t burn to the ground. That was just the map on Bonanza. The glory days of the Comstock Lode may be history, but this town, from the Gold Hill Hotel to the Bullette Red Light Museum (it’s just a museum, guys), is the real deal.
Readers’ Choice: Virginia City
The street has been paved, but not much else about this village has changed since the days of the Lincoln County War. Once considered “the most dangerous street in America,” the only danger these days comes from eating too much at the Wortley Hotel or the Ellis Store & Co. Country Inn.
Readers’ Choice: Lincoln
Although founded by a French nobleman, Medora gets the nod as an Old West town because if it’s good enough for Teddy Roosevelt, by dang, it’s good enough for us. Roosevelt had two ranches here, the Maltese Cross and the Elkhorn, which, he always said, provided the “romance of my life” and led him to the White House. There he became the first great conservationist, signing laws that protected antiquities, created national monuments, parks and wildlife refuges, and established the U.S. Forest Service. Not a bad legacy for a little badlands town.
OK Oklahoma City
The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Enough said. All right, our high sheriffs say it’s not enough said, so let’s add the great Western stores in the Bricktown district, boomers and sooners everywhere, and a horse track named after Frederic Remington.
Readers’ Choice: Lawton
Cowboys and Indians came together in Pendleton in 1909 to launch the first Pendleton Roundup and Happy Canyon, events that are still going strong in this Northeast Oregon town known worldwide for its woolen mills. Not elaborate by some standards, the roundup grounds have nevertheless seen more world-class cowboys eat dirt than most states can claim, ranging from early-day female bronc riders like Bertha Blancett to 2004 Rodeo Hall of Fame inductee Casey Tibbs.
Readers’ Choice: Oregon City
Rebuilt after natural disasters in the 1880s, Deadwood fuels the imagination better than most Western towns. Once a Black Hills gold camp, it is now ruled by casinos, although local revenues do support preservation. Wild Bill Days, the Trial of Jack McCall and Days of ’76 are some of the fun. Pay your respects to Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok on Mount Moriah. (Not prime time—the real deal.)
Readers’ Choice: Deadwood
TX Fort Davis
There’s the well preserved fort, now a national historic site. A wonderful state park. Terrific inns and B&Bs. A great dude ranch, an observatory and a darn good hatmaker at Limpia Creek Hat Company. And scary state secessionists. Not only that, but the 1998 charming movie Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 was filmed here, so this gets our vote.
Readers’ Choice: Fort Worth
UT St. George
One of the prettiest towns you’ll find in Utah with the stunning St. George Temple, this burg’s also surrounded by history: the homes of Jacob Hamblin and Brigham Young, Zion National Park, the Old Spanish Trail and the haunting Mountain Meadows Massacre site. And if things get tetchy, you can skip across to Arizona real quick like.
Readers’ Choice: Alta
Long before Buffalo Bill dreamed of making a fortune in Cody (a great town, certainly), mountain men knew the treasures of the Pinedale area. Fur trappers get their due at the Museum of the Mountain Man and the annual Green River Rendezvous, but we also dig the Pinedale Blues Festival and breakfast at the Wrangler Cafe.
Readers’ Choice: Cheyenne
Best Historic Western Hotels
Arizona: Hassayampa Inn, Prescott
California: Murphys Historic Hotel
& Lodge, Murphys
Colorado: Stanley Hotel, Estes Park
Idaho: Idaho Hotel, Silver City
Kansas: Eldridge Hotel, Lawrence
Minnesota: Archer House, Northfield
Montana: Sacagawea Hotel, Three Forks
Nebraska: Olde Main Street Inn, Chadron
Nevada: Gold Hill Hotel, Virginia City
New Mexico: Historic Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas
North Dakota: Rough Riders Hotel, Medora
Oklahoma: Ambassador, Tulsa
Oregon: Governor Hotel, Portland
South Dakota: Bullock Hotel, Deadwood
Texas: Gage Hotel, Marathon
Wyoming: Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel, Cody
Best Western Historical Sites
AZ Fort Bowie
Southeast of Bowie
The adobe ruins aren’t much when compared to military posts like Fort Laramie. Yet, the remoteness of the park (you have to hike in) makes you appreciate what this area must have been like during the Apache Wars. Just remember: Geronimo, Cochise and Lt. George Bascom may be gone, but rattlesnakes still have the right-of-way.
Readers’ Choice: Town of Tombstone
CA Old Sacramento
Argonauts arrived by boat, stagecoach, carriage, wagon, horse and foot, seeking riches in California and Old Sacramento, and you can use those modes of transportation, too. Old Sacramento these days has plays in the Eagle Theatre, merchants lining the streets and operating in historical buildings, plus museums with trains and military gear.
Readers’ Choice: Town of Columbia
CO Bent’s “Old” Fort
Possibly the first 7-11 on the Santa Fe Trail, Bent’s Fort was one-stop shopping in the early 1800s and an adobe-brick gathering place for fur traders and Indians. Founder William Bent married the daughter of a Cheyenne chief here; John C. Fremont restocked provisions here; and the first white woman to travel the trail, Mary Donoho (not Susan Magoffin as commonly believed) had tea here in 1833. The replica is a beautiful reconstruction.
Readers’ Choice: Town of Leadville
ID City of Rocks National Reserve
Emigrants on the California Trail left their names painted in axle grease on the rock outcroppings that gave the City of Rocks its name. These days, history buffs take a backseat to rock climbers who flock here from all over the world in order to test their skill on monoliths such as the Bread Loaves or Incisor.
KS Fort Larned
Nine buildings have been restored and furnished to their original appearance. Re-enactors are often on hand, recreating life on a military post that guards the Santa Fe Trail. George Custer spent a week here in 1867 before taking off, probably in search of some decent Mexican food.
Readers’ Choice: Fort Larned
MN First National Bank
The First National Bank is a beautifully preserved crime scene. Unlike many other Old West sites, the very bank where Jesse James and his cohorts met their Waterloo is exactly as it stood in 1876, right down to the clock on the wall, which stopped during the robbery (2:10 p.m.) and has never been reset. It is chilling to see this next to the vault where it all happened. What a great, must-see site.
Readers’ Choice: Town of Northfield
MO Fort Osage
William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) built the original Fort Osage in the fall of 1808. Its modern-day replica is one of the best trading post copies in the country. Seen from the Missouri River, the fort looks as if it had been thrust back into the early 19th century.
MT Town of Virginia City
Sip some suds, buy a hat or peer through windows of stores that closed decades ago as you wander along the one main street in Virginia City. It’s the best preserved, 1860’s-era gold town in Montana and one where you can still attend a melodrama, climb aboard a stagecoach or train, find a meal or rent a room for the night.
Readers’ Choice: Little Bighorn Battlefield
ND Knife River Indian Villages
So much important history took place around here, it boggles the mind. French fur trader Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, the Sieur de la Vérendrye, came in 1738; followed by Lewis and Clark, who spent the winter of 1804-05 at nearby Fort Mandan. And then the American Fur Company opened Fort Clark a few miles down the Missouri River from here in 1831. Unfortunately for the Hidatsas, who lived at the Knife-Missouri confluence, smallpox arrived on the riverboat St. Peter’s in 1837, killing upwards of half the tribe and almost all of the neighboring Mandans.
Readers’ Choice: Town of Pembina
NE Homestead National Monument of America
Western historical sites often pay tribute to warriors, but this little gem honors a rare thing indeed: something good that came out of Congress. Think about it. The Homestead Act of 1862 probably did more to open up the West until Starbucks came along.
Readers’ Choice: Fort Robinson
NM Fort Sumner
In the 19th century, Fort Sumner was no place to be. Just ask Billy the Kid (killed here in 1881, sorry Brushy Bill fans) or the Navajos interred at dreadful Bosque Redondo. Today it’s a great place to be for Billy buffs and anyone else, if for no other reason than the milkshakes at Addison Drug.
Readers’ Choice: Town of Lincoln
NV Town of Carson City
When Mark Twain arrived here in 1861, he was more impressed with the neighboring Sierra Nevada Mountains than with the town, but then he never heard Carson City’s “Talking Houses.” The 2.5-mile Kit Carson Trail passes 24 preserved Victorian homes with their tales broadcast on several AM radio frequencies. And be sure to see the Krebs-Petersen house, the site of John Wayne’s last movie, The Shootist.
Readers’ Choice: Town of Virginia City
OK Fort Sill
On one of the Southern Plains’ most important military site, the museum pays tribute to the buffalo soldiers who helped establish this post in 1869. Plus, the post cemetery is a who’s who of Indian graves (Quanah Parker, Satanta, Ten Bears, Satank, etc.), and Geronimo’s final resting place just down the road is colorful and surreal.
Readers’ Choice: Fort Sill
OR Pendleton Underground Tours
In the late 1800s, Chinese workers constructed a series of underground tunnels that connected Pendleton businesses. The tunnels became part of an underground network that linked businesses ranging from the respected, like a German meat market and ice cream parlor, to profitable bordellos frequented by cowboys and sheepherders. During prohibition, saloons and gambling dens went underground, as well.
SD Wounded Knee
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
Many historical sites make you appreciate the past. This one leaves you disturbed. A small monument marks where the scores of Sioux were killed on December 29, 1890, in one of the most senseless military/Indian conflicts in Western history. For tourists, this is the antithesis of South Dakota’s Wall Drug.
Readers’ Choice: Town of Deadwood
Everything’s supposed to be bigger in Texas, but nowadays this shrine of Texas independence gets kinda dwarfed by downtown San Antonio skyscrapers. No matter how Davy died (we opt for the Arthur Hunnicutt version in The Lost Command), the Alamo remains a haunting testament to courage and sacrifice.
Readers’ Choice: Alamo in San Antonio, TX
UT Mountain Meadows
Near St. George
Largely forgotten, the Mormon-led massacre of 120-odd members of a wagon train from Arkansas on September 11, 1857, remains one of the most controversial events in U.S. history. Did Brigham Young order the bloodbath? Was John D. Lee, the only person executed for the killings, a scapegoat? Will the truth ever be known?
WA Whitman Mission
West of Walla Walla
Darned near every overland emigrant heading to Oregon from 1843-47 stopped at the mission established by Dr. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Then the good doctor’s treatment for a measles epidemic—caused by those same overland travelers—was ineffective for Indian children who had no natural immunity, so the Cayuses attacked the mission, killing Marcus and Narcissa, plus nearly a dozen others, and forcing the mission to close. Even so, tracks of the pioneers are plainly evident at this site beside the Walla Walla River.
Readers’ Choice: Fort Vancouver
WY Fort Laramie
In what feels like the middle of nowhere, this beautifully preserved military post established in 1849 is a Western adventurer’s trip back in time. Soldiers built the fort on the grounds of the original Fort William trading post (1834) near the confluence of the North Platte and Laramie Rivers. Costumed re-enactors, mountain men and soldiers explain the past with convincing accuracy. Sip a sarsaparilla when you’re done.
Readers’ Choice: Old Trail Town in Cody, WY
Best Western Museums
Arizona: Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff
California: Museum of the American West (formerly the Autry), Los Angeles
Colorado: Buffalo Bill Grave & Museum, Golden
Idaho: National Oregon/California Trail Center, Montpelier
Kansas: Old Cowtown Museum, Wichita
Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society History Center, St. Paul
Missouri: Jesse James Farm & Museum, Kearney
Montana: Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Center, Great Falls
Nebraska: Scout’s Rest Ranch, North Platte
Nevada: Nevada State Museum, Carson City
New Mexico: Harwood Museum of Art, Taos
North Dakota: Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Washburn
Oklahoma: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City
Oregon: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Oregon City
South Dakota: Journey Museum, Rapid City
Texas: Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon
Utah: Museum of Church History & Art, Salt Lake City
Washington: Fort Vancouver, Vancouver
Wyoming: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody
Best Authentic Saddle Maker
Will Ghormley Des Moines, Iowa
There are a lot of good saddle makers around, but few combine historical accuracy with leather artistry. Specializing in recreating saddles of the 19th century, Ghormley explains: “When men lived in their saddles, the saddles had to be sturdy, comfortable, durable, functional and versatile.” His are.
Readers’ Choice: Old Pueblo Saddle Co. in Pueblo West, CO
Earl Tupps Wyoming/Colorado
On the road up to 12 months a year, Tupps shoes horses from Cody to Colorado Springs—because he likes to. Tall and quiet, gentle and calm, he knows a good fit from a bad one and how to correct when necessary. He never hurts his back because he shoes on his knees! Horses like him. People do, too. “Have cell phone will travel.”
Readers’ Choice: Billy Klapper
Tom Paul Schneider Gilbert, Arizona
Descended from a great-grandfather who shod mules in WWI, this award-winning craftsman swears metalwork is in his blood. Once a working cowboy as well, he’s passionate about his craft, making wearable art (especially belt buckles), fully hand-engraved in pure silver with great graphics and elaborate designs as unique as his signature. When you’re ready for the best—get in line.
Readers’ Choice: Squaw Creek Silver in Rainbow, TX
Best Old West Bowie Knife Maker
Bob Giles Whitefish, Montana
Sharp-eyed Bowie knife fanciers ogle over the historical artistry of Bob Giles (Cowboy Bob’s Frontier Trappings). From big clip point Bowies of the 1830s to the smaller 1880’s hunter’s companion knives, this artisan handcrafts each blade from recycled circular sawmill blades, then fits them with period-correct handles of ivory, ebony, pearl and other 19th-century materials—including silvered Tiffany-style grips.
Best Knife Maker
Bill Smith Silverdale, Washington
Outstanding doesn’t come close to describing the beauties created by Bill Smith. The blades, from either stainless or stainless ladder Damascus steel, are cut in shapes from skinners, hunters and carvers to combination sawtooth/skinners. What makes Smith’s knives unique are the exquisite stone handles that he makes from rhodonite, petrified wood, limestone, quartz or jade.
Readers’ Choice: W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. in Bradford, PA
Best Western Furniture Crafter
Lester Santos Cody, Wyoming
Lester Santos has worked for other furniture companies, but when he became his own boss, his furniture blossomed into unique pieces, combining Shaker, Molesworth, New Mexican and Native American styles. Not content to turn trees into furniture that become works of art, he donates a portion of all proceeds to buy and plant more trees.
Best Tent Maker
David Ellis Canvas Products Durango, Colorado
A big wind came up at this year’s Festival of the West in Scottsdale, Arizona, blowing down a number of tents, but not those made by David Ellis. So, while other exhibitors raced around trying to retrieve their belongings, the True West staff and members of Western Writers of America, who were also using Dave’s tents, were snug as a bug in a rug.
Best Backcountry Outfitter
Rimrock Dude Ranch Cody, Wyoming
Outfitter Gary Fales claims “there is no trail, pass or creek in this country that we have not ridden.” And by golly, since he’s been doing it from the time he could sit a horse, and his parents outfitted in the Thorofare and Yellowstone wilderness areas for years before that, who’s to dispute his claim? Fales leads a fine pack outfit for fishermen and hunters during summer and fall from Yellowstone National Park and Cody to near Dubois.
Best Western Festival
Festival of the West Scottsdale, Arizona
Imagine a full menu of top-notch Western entertainment, including single action shooting, chuckwagon cook-offs, nonstop cowboy music, a Native American experience, vintage Western film actors, a costume contest and vendors who can bankrupt your credit card, all located in beautiful Scottsdale, Arizona. Put on your boots and go every third week of March. If it was more fun, it wouldn’t be legal.
Readers’ Choice: Festival of the West in Scottsdale, AZ
Best Western Auction
Brian Lebel’s Cody Old West Show and Auction Cody, Wyoming
Since 1989, dealer Brian Lebel has presented the finest authentic cowboy memorabilia (circa 1880 and beyond) for sale each June in Cody, Wyoming, featuring over 300 independent dealers and a collectible catalogue (see p. 18 for his latest auction). Watch an international audience bid for top dollar on art, tack, clothing and more, all wanting a piece of the American West. Can’t go? Bidding by mail or real-time Internet is encouraged.
Best Old West Re-enactment
Fort Buford Sixth Infantry Frontier Military Encampment Southwest of Williston, North Dakota
Members of the Sixth Infantry re-enactment group blow off a lot of black powder during their annual military encampment at Fort Buford each July; occasionally the soldiers mix it up with fur trade re-enactors from nearby Fort Union. You can trade for firearms, tobacco, soap and even a cup of whiskey ... just watch out because some traders have been known to add a rattlesnake head or two to the barrel to give their whiskey some “bite.”
Readers’ Choice: Immortal Gunfighters in Chloride, AZ
Fort Bridger’s Mountain Man Rendezvous Fort Bridger, Wyoming
The hardest thing you’ll have to do at this Labor Day rendezvous is find a parking place in this tiny community. Once you enter the grounds of Fort Bridger State Historic Site, filled with tipis and tents, buckskinners, traders and Indians, you’ll begin looking for Old Gabe himself; some of these guys (and gals) look grizzly enough to be the 200-year-old mountain man.
Best Western Movie Set
Eaves Movie Ranch Santa Fe, New Mexico
“If you build it, they will come.” Okay, they didn’t film Field of Dreams here, but once J.W. Eaves opened his ranch to Hollywood, they definitely came, filming little known movies until its first big hit, 1969’s The Cheyenne Social Club. John Wayne walked these streets, but perhaps the biggest character was J.W. Eaves himself, who died in 2001 at age 85.
Readers’ Choice: The Alamo Set in Brackettville, TX
Best Living Western Actress
Cate only has one Western role on her belt but it’s a doozy. As the mother of a kidnapped daughter who has severe abandonment issues with her father (Tommy Lee Jones), Blanchett burns and churns as the conflicted, helpless and yet resilient mother in last year’s The Missing. The movie was a failure, but you can’t blame Cate. She is so strong, so weak, so angry, so sad, in short, so believable as an emotionally repressed, pragmatic and protective pioneer woman all rolled into one body. They don’t write that dynamic in the script; Cate brought it all with her. Let’s hope she comes back again.
Readers’ Choice: Diane Lane
Best Living Western Actor
Hate beans? You won’t after watching Sam Elliott scarf them down in the TNT movie Conagher. And his voice! Bet you can hear him say “Howdy Ma’am” by just seeing the words in print. He’s a cowboy’s cowboy, turning any movie into a gotta see flick. We hope there are a lot more Westerns that’ll come out from under his hat.
Readers’ Choice: Robert Duvall
Best Western CD
Prairie Winds Pistol River
North, south, east or west, Prairie Winds is the best! This Western CD by Pistol River is scrumptious to the ears. Full of cowboys and cowgirls, mountains and prairies, life and death, love lost and found, its ballads tantalize the soul. Just play it, and “They will listen.” This is Western WOW!
Best Alternative Western Music CD
Spirit Songs: The Best of Bill Miller
Native American Miller has been recording for over 25 years. He combines musical styles from his own culture with those of others to produce beautiful, haunting tales of the true West. This year, he released Spirit Songs: The Best of Bill Miller, which chronicles those years. He tours extensively throughout the year, so keep your ears to the rail.
We’re certainly not going to argue with Bobby Weaver of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, who said that Don Edwards is “the best purveyor of cowboy music in America today.” Son of a vaudeville magician, Edwards taught himself to play the guitar at age 10 and made his first record in 1964. Today, two of his albums are in the Folklore Archives of the Library of Congress.
Best High-energy Acoustic
Speaking of troubadours, we start with a band living in Texas but comprised of musicians from Australia and England. They have recently released their first album, Movin’ On. Their core group is comprised of award-winning mandolin, fiddle and bass players, though their CD and tours include one amazing guitarist or another. This album of mostly originals ain’t your grandpa’s Bluegrass, but we bet he’d love it.
Readers’ Choice: Davin James
Best Bluegrass Country
After only two albums, it is obvious that this young band is destined for greatness—get in on the ground floor. Their musicianship and respect for tradition belie the fact that they are only in their 20s. They bring an exuberance and life to Bluegrass that the masters seem to have forgotten. On their second release, Broke (see review on p. 103), the band combines six original tunes that fit right in with Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmie Davis, the Monroe Brothers and the traditional “Little Birdie.”
Readers’ Choice: Alison Krauss
Best Traditional Country
It don’t get more real than this. Growing up in a small Texas town, James has lived the life of his honky-tonk songs. Though he sounds remarkably like Hank Williams, “Slim” is an original, from the songs he writes to his honest modesty about what he does. Every lover of Traditional Country who hears him quickly becomes a devoted fan. After a lifetime of obscurity, this man is poised for a breakout. Catch him on his third CD, Live from the Saxon Pub.
Readers’ Choice: Johnny Cash
Best Country Acoustic
Adrienne Young & Little Sadie
With her creamy voice and masterful songwriting skills, Adrienne Young has created contemporary Acoustic music firmly rooted in American musical heritage. Her first CD, Plow to the End of the Row, is an extraordinary collection of original and traditional songs. There are upbeat, hopeful celebrations of joy and tales of tragedy, too. All have an infectious energy, which makes you feel so much better after listening than you did before.
Readers’ Choice: Chris LeDoux
Best Contemporary, Honky-Tonk Country
Moot is a newcomer on the scene, but don’t let that stop you. On his eponymous, self-titled debut CD, Moot brings a fully fledged set of original Country songs. These are songs just as you’d hear in the most authentic honky-tonks in the West. Moot claims Hank Williams and Johnny Cash as major influences, and those souls do shine through. Pete Anderson arranged, produced and played on this recording. Pete is the multi-platinum, Grammy award-winning producer of so many Dwight Yoakam albums we all love.
Best Western Swing
Hot Club of Cowtown
For real, honest-to-goodness Western Swing, it just doesn’t get any better than Hot Club. This power trio has been amazing and delighting all who see their shows for about five years. The skill levels of these musicians are unsurpassed, as is their enthusiasm for their music. Continental Stomp is their fifth release and was recorded live at the legendary Continental Club in Austin, Texas. They tour extensively, so look for them in your town—and get ready to swing.
Readers’ Choice: Bob Wills
James McMurtry & the Heartless Bastards
Following up his superb Saint Mary of the Woods, James McMurtry has released Live in Aught-Three in an attempt to capture the electricity of his live performances. He has long been known as a serious and perceptive songwriter, and now his works have become musically more dynamic and engaging with his maturity. His lyrics are not sugarcoated pop, but a real glimpse into run-down trailer parks and dusty side streets of the real world.
Readers’ Choice: Ray Wylie Hubbard
Known to only the most discerning music lovers, Graham Parker is one of the finest contemporary songwriters extant. After close to 30 albums in many genres, he has released Your Country. This veteran is an alchemist, creating nuggets of real-world gold from mere words and tones. His lyrics are so tightly intertwined as to amaze and delight even the most jaded. Graham is operating on more levels than most contemporary songwriters are even aware exist. If you love song, you need this recording.
Readers’ Choice: Red Steagall