Best of the West
- Published September 30, 2003
Celebrating our 50th anniversary, we at True West again reveal our hoarded nuggets, our favorite out-of-the-way secrets: the best brothel museum, the top country music artist, the wildest Western towns—the West’s best, bar none. We also share your picks in the Readers’ Choice. So dive on in and feast on the best of the West. We’re betting you’ll be glad you did.
Best Cowboy Artist of All Time
Some may quibble with the singular title (many consider Russell-Remington to be joined at the easel), but Charlie Russell was the first bona fide cowboy artist in the land. Remington painted many cowboys, Indians and soldiers, but Russell created some 5,000 Western works of art and never once portrayed a soldier. Interesting, eh? Readers’ Choice: Charlie Russell
Best Contemporary Western Artist
Because of the proliferation of so-called “Cowboy Art,” it is increasingly hard to break new trails, especially when the back trail is lit by such painting giants as Gordon Snidow, Bill Owen and James Reynolds. But one young artist (okay, he’s 45) is breathing new life into a somewhat predictable genre. John Moyers, the son of cowboy artist William Moyers, has not only found new trails but also new ways to incorporate old, classic themes, and his emphasis on Mexican vaqueros is a breath of fresh air. Not surprisingly, John is currently president of Cowboy Artists of America. Readers’ Choice: Buck Taylor
Best Native American Artist
Though he’s not as well-known as Pahponee or Oreland C. Joe, we opt for this New Mexico artist whose alabaster sculptures recreate his Lipan, Mescalero and Chiricahua Apache heritage. Besides, how many Indian artists are descendants of Cochise? Readers’ Choice: Maria Martinez
Best Western Historical Sculptor
Although Bob has sculpted everything from wildlife to mountain men, it was his portrayal of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp that got our attention. The level of detail, down to the removable revolvers with ivory grips, sets his work apart from any we’ve ever seen.
Best Western Sculptor
Susan credits her father’s career in forestry and a wall calendar painting by Frederic Remington for awakening her interest in art when she was a child. Susan’s bronzes depict everything from Native Americans and cowboys to a 10-foot tall bronze monument honoring Sedona Schnebly, the namesake of Sedona, Arizona.
Best Living Western Historical Novelist
Lucia St. Clair Robson
Beginning with her first book, Ride the Wind (about Comanche captive Cynthia Ann Parker), through her latest, Ghost Warrior: Lozen of the Apaches, Lucia combines a historian’s knowledge of facts with a novelist’s understanding of the human condition. As a result, she’s able to transport her readers to a world that is so real, they can smell the sweat.
Best Living Western Novelist
Winner of seven Spur Awards and, in 1995, voted “the greatest Western author of all time” by Western Writers of America. Enough said!
Best National Publisher of Western Fiction
New York, New York
Forge’s stable of Western writers is a Who’s Who of the genre. At a time when much of the publishing industry considers the Western novel if not dead, certainly comatose, Forge keeps Western literature alive by publishing authors such as Elmer Kelton, Lucia St. Clair Robson and Loren Estleman. Readers’ Choice: Bantam Dell/New York, NY
Best National Publisher of Western Nonfiction
Arthur H. Clark Co.
The company’s decision to reissue LeRoy R. Hafen’s 10-volume masterpiece The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the Far West (to date eight volumes have been reprinted) all but guaranteed Arthur H. Clark Co. would win this category. The company’s offering of rare books on the American West is as good as the best university presses and better than most. Readers’ Choice: University of Oklahoma Press/Norman, OK
Best Place to Publish Your Own Book
So you’ve written a novel about your great-great gunfighting-grandfather and the New York publishers aren’t beating down your door. Not to worry, Morris Publishing may be your answer. This family-owned publishing company specializes in short-run printing—200 to 5,000 copies. Morris will walk you through the steps needed to get your book from your computer to bookstore shelves. And yes, Morris will take the mystery out of bar codes, ISBNs and Library of Congress Control Numbers.
Best Regional Publisher of Western Nonfiction
The Early West
College Station, Texas
Whether it’s Billy the Kid or John Wesley Hardin, the Early West’s repertoire of books on 19th-century outlaws and lawmen is certain to thrill and satisfy the most discerning Old West buff.
Best University Press Publisher of Western Nonfiction
University of Oklahoma Press
With its annual offering of new books about the American West and its large inventory of backlisted Western history titles, the UOP is a godsend to both professional writers and armchair historians. While many university presses ignore the history of the Old West in favor of more trendy subjects, the UOP keeps our Western heritage from being forgotten.
Best Backcountry Outfitter
High Wild & Lonesome
Big Piney, Wyoming
Ranch-raised Mike and Bobbi Wade get high marks for celebrating everything Western in the Cowboy State. They’ll help you get up close and personal with wild mustangs, cattle drives and the Pony Express Trail, while you soak up history, oodles of sunshine and Wyoming’s fall colors. These cowboy, horseback adventures aren’t for the faint of heart or soft of butt. Readers’ Choice: Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures/Sidney, NE
Best Contemporary Western Designer
Santa Fe, New Mexico
She’s Nashville’s Music Row, Dodge City’s Front Street and a New York runway rolled into one. Chandler Liberty’s custom-made apparel is a throwback to Nudie Cohen while incorporating the contemporary style of Manuel. She has helped outfit the cast of Annie Get Your Gun and millionaires wanting a one-of-a-kind look for a buckaroo ball. Readers’ Choice: Panhandle Slim/Fort Worth, TX
Best Historic Western Designer
If Ethel Place, the Sundance Kid’s beautiful paramour, were alive today, she would undoubtedly purchase her dresses at Recollections. Only here will you find a bathing suit that reminds you of a summer dress with short pants. Oh, excuse us, we mean a bathing costume. Readers’ Choice: Wahmaker/Oxnard, CA
Best Vintage Western Clothing Outfitter
Dan Scully’s company has earned accolades for its leather line, but more recently its vintage clothing has come into vogue. Scully produces the Wahmaker line—popular with Single Action Shooting Society members. In addition, its retro look of singing cowboy shirts would leave Gene, Roy and Dale envious. Readers’ Choice: Wild West Mercantile/Phoenix, AZ
Best Family Oriented Dude Ranch
The Elkhorn Ranch is one of those places where memories of a lifetime are created. Located about 60 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona, this family-owned dude ranch has been dealing out Western hospitality since 1945.
Best Dude Ranches
Arizona: Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson
Colorado: Lost Valley Ranch, Sedalia
Idaho: Diamond D Ranch, Stanley
Oklahoma: Flying W Guest Ranch, Sayre
Montana: Averill’s Flathead Lake Ranch,
New Mexico: Double E. Guest Ranch, Gila
Texas: Y.O. Ranch, Mountain Home
Washington: K Diamond K, Republic
Wyoming: Crossed Sabres Ranch, WapitiBest Guided Trail Ride
Spur Cross Stables
Cave Creek, Arizona
So you don’t have time for a dude ranch, but you still want to go for a great ride? Experienced wranglers can guide you through the splendor of the Spur Cross Ranch in the Tonto National Forest. Experienced horsepeople and first-time riders alike will enjoy Indian petroglyphs and ruins as well as desert wildlife, so don’t forget your spurs.
Best Horse Trainer
Desert Hills, Arizona
Paul Dietz’s expertise with horses is sought out by everyone from beginning riders to Olympic gold medalists. Whether you’re trail riding, working cow horses, competing or you just want to hone your horsemanship, Dietz can take you from green to cowboy better than most. Readers’ Choice: Pat Parelli/Pagosa Springs, CO
Best Trick Roper
Sure there are other guys and gals skilled at twirling a rope. None of them, however, have Will Rogers’ panache. Until his untimely death in a small plane, this “Roping Fool” entertained millions with not only his rope skills but also his wit. Readers’ Choice: Will Rogers
Best Mounted Shooting Event
Cowboy Mounted Shooters of America
Each November, this is the “best of the best” from the founding organization for this fast-growing sport where marksmanship and horsemanship are critical. The CMSA boasts 101 affiliate clubs nationwide and calls itself a “family-vested organization” where you’re likely to see three generations—from grandpa to granddaughter—competing for the biggest purse in the sport. And best yet, the members proudly carry on the traditions of the Old West.
Best Single Action Shooting Match
End of Trail
No matter if you’re the fastest gun alive—single action, that is, no double actions here—or you enjoy watching talented shooters dressed as if they had just stepped out of an Overland stagecoach, this annual five-day world championship of cowboy action is just plain fun. Readers’ Choice: End of Trail
Best Old West Shoot-out
In terms of sheer firepower and killing action, it’s hard to match the number of bullets and shooters in front of and inside the Condon bank in downtown Coffeyville, Kansas, on October 5, 1892. The ill-fated Dalton raid on two banks simultaneously resulted in the deaths of four outlaws, four townsmen and four horses. If you’re into numerology, or simply a student of Old West history, one thing is clear: don’t mess with Kansas farmers during hunting season.
Best Trick Gun Handler
Watching Joey “twirl” his Cimarron single action revolvers gives new meaning to “Shock & Awe.” Dillon won the World Gunspinning Championship in 2001. Now 22, Dillon has won the Wild West Arts Club Championship, the Pat Rowan Award for Gunhandling and the Joe Bowman Award for Showmanship.
Best Trick Shooter
For the second year, Bob has earned this honor. No one comes close to Bob’s ability; he’s so fast that his reaction time baffles neurologists. He’s not just fast, he’s accurate, regularly splitting playing cards in half at exhibitions. That’s right, he cuts them in half (through the skinny side, not the face of the card).
Best Brass-Framed Repeater
Henry Big Boy
Henry Repeating Arms Co.
Brooklyn, New York
Chambered in .44 magnum, this big lever action powerhouse will never be mistaken for a squirrel gun. And besides packing a wallop, the gun has a famous pedigree, tracing its lineage back to the man who invented the famous Henry Rifle, Benjamin Tyler Henry. During the Civil War, one Confederate officer said, “It’s a rifle that you could load on Sunday and shoot all week long.”
Best Cap and Ball Revolver Reproduction
1851 Navy Colt
Navy Arms Co.
Union City, New Jersey
If this handgun was good enough for Wild Bill Hickok, it’s good enough for us. He carried a pair of ’51 Navy Colts even after the advent of cartridge revolvers. Navy Arms’ reproduction, chambered in .36 or .44 caliber, is a pleasure to own, whether you want to shoot it or merely put it out for display. Readers’ Choice: 1851 Navy Colt
Best Cartridge Conversion Revolver Reproduction
Cimarron F.A. Co.
Cimarron’s 1860 Richards-Mason Army Conversion reproduction, chambered in .45 S&W Schofield, .44 Colt, .44 Russian or .38 special, is accurate and fun to shoot. Original conversion models were as popular with Old West cowboys (who couldn’t afford a newer Colt Single Action Army) as the replicas are with today’s cowboy action shooters.
Best Commemorative Firearm
John Wayne Coach Gun
True West field editor Phil Spangenberger picked the double-barrel shotgun as the most important gun of the 19th century (Feb/March 2003). America Remembers’ commemorative 24-karat gold-engraved, 12-gauge double-barrel coach gun not only celebrates the shotgun’s importance in “taming” the Old West, but it also serves as a tribute to John Wayne. Readers’ Choice: 1984 Winchester-Colt Commemorative Set by U.S. Repeating Arms Co./New Haven, Connecticut
Best Custom Gunsmith
About 40 years ago, the sport of quick draw got Bob into gunsmithing when he needed to build up his own single action revolvers so they would be able to stand the thousands of rounds of ammunition he was firing. Today, Bob’s reputation as a gun doctor has gun owners lining up at his doorstep, whether it’s to beef up a factory gun or to restore a valuable antique.
Best Custom Old West Gun Manufacturer
R & D Gun Shop
Kenny is classified as a gun manufacturer and not simply a gunsmith because he’s one of a few who can make a gun from a block of steel and wood. We’re not talkin’ just any gun. Kenny made the revolvers used by Will Smith in the remake of Wild Wild West. He also made Tom Selleck’s guns for The Last Stand at Sabre River, Crossfire Trail, Monte Walsh and the upcoming The Empty Land.
Best Lever Action Rifle
.30-30 Model 336
The Marlin Firearms Co.
North Haven, Connecticut
When John Marlin first made the Model 336 in 1893, he probably never guessed he had just produced what would become his company’s most famous rifle and one of the most popular rifles of all time. Today, Marlin’s .30-30 is still top dog among lever action rifles, in part because its sturdy receiver permits more chamberings than its competition.
Best Old West Non-firing Replica Firearm
1892 (Winchester) Western Carbine
Made famous by the TV series The Rifleman and Wanted Dead or Alive, the 1892 carbine has the same weight and feel as the real gun but is inexpensive and safe. And yes, the lever action works, so you can spin-cock like Chuck Connors to your heart’s content.
Best Old West Rifle Reproduction
Model 1865 Spencer Carbine
Taylor’s & Co.
Taylor’s & Co., Inc. and Armi Sport have teamed up to build the best Spencer rifle reproduction on the market today, one offering a smooth action that will stand up to years of use. First produced by Christopher Miner Spencer, the Model 1865 corrected design flaws in Spencer’s original 1860 model and gained a solid reputation on the American frontier. Readers’ Choice: Uberti’s 1866 “Yellowboy” Carbine by Benelli USA/Pocomoke, MD
Best Sharps Rifle Manufacturer
C. Sharps Arms Co.
Big Timber, Montana
When you think of 19th-century buffalo hunters, the name Sharps nearly always comes to mind. Big-bore blackpowder rifles, such as the Sharps Model 1874, were the boss gun of the Great Plains. Today, C. Sharps Arms continues that tradition with its new Model 1874 Sharps Boss Gun, which carries with it more than 100 years of tradition. Quality is the reason the registered trademark of C. Sharps continues to be “Old Reliable.”
Best Single Action Army Reproduction
United States Fire Arms Mfg. Co.
Made in Hartford, Connecticut, the cradle of the nation’s early gun manufacturers, the modern single action army “Rodeo” is historically correct down to its use of a solid firing pin. This revolver makes the Old West a little more accessible to us all. Readers’ Choice: Cimarron Model 1873 Single Action Army by Cimarron F.A. Co./Fredericksburg, TX
Best Single Action Revolver—Historic
Colt .45 “Peacemaker”
Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Mfg. Co.
The name Colt is synonymous with the Old West. In fact, we’re sure you’ve heard the axiom “God created man, but Samuel Colt made them equal.” This mainstay firearm was so reliable and innovative, a first generation .45 caliber Colt is one of the most collected guns today. True West’s field editor Phil Spangenberger rated the Peacemaker as #5 on his list of the 50 guns that won the West.
Best Single Action Revolver—Modern
Ruger Bisley Vaquero Sturm, Ruger & Co.
This is the ideal revolver for those wanting the Old West look with the safety of Ruger’s transfer bar mechanism and loading gate interlock. The SASS-approved Bisley Vaquero is kind to your gun hand, whether chambered in .357 magnum, .45 Colt, .44-40 or—for the Dirty Harry types—.44 magnum.
Best Old West Saloons
Alaska: Red Dog, Juneau
Arizona: Copper Queen Hotel, Bisbee
California: The Crazy Horse, Irvine
Colorado: The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver
Idaho: Casino, Ketchum
Kansas: Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City
Minnesota: Sweeneys Saloon, St. Paul
Montana: Montana Bar, Miles City
Nevada: Mt. Charleston Lodge, Mount Charleston
New Mexico: Cowgirl Bar, Santa Fe
North Dakota: The Iron Horse, Medora
Oregon: Jake’s, Portland
South Dakota: Saloon # 10, Deadwood
Texas: White Elephant Saloon, Fort Worth
Wyoming: Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Jackson
Best Haunted Saloon
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon
Lots of old saloons say they’re haunted. Big Nose Kate’s (formerly the Grand Hotel) claims to have regular hauntings witnessed by numerous patrons. Whether they’re a dead cowboy or soiled dove, the ghostly occurrences boggle the mind. Aggressive spirits have been known to push unwitting waitresses down the back stairs. It’s not a place we’d like to be locked in overnight. Readers’ Choice: Birdcage Theatre/Tombstone, AZ
Best Historically Accurate Saloon
When Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel opened in 1902, its most talked about feature was the saloon’s cherrywood bar (see p. 98). It was a gift from Queen Victoria of England to show her gratitude for a court performance of the Wild West Show. Even today, the bar remains the hotel’s pièce de résistance. Readers’ Choice: The Crystal Palace/Tombstone, AZ
Best Saloon Frequented by an Old West Icon
The Crystal Palace
It doesn’t get more authentic than this. The Earps, Doc Holliday and anyone who was anybody regularly drank at the Crystal Palace. It was the place to be seen in old Tombstone. Set ’em up!
Best Western Saloon to Get Smashed In
The Buffalo Chip Saloon
Cave Creek, Arizona
The Buffalo Chip is one of the last truly great cowboy saloons. Patrons regularly ride their horses to the bar for an evening of hard liquor, hot women and great music. This official rodeo bar for the local Fiesta Days Rodeo has been a cowboy watering hole for almost 50 years. Readers’ Choice: Big Nose Kate’s Saloon/Tombstone, AZ
Best Mountain Range—Large
Wind River Mountains
From history to spectacular scenery, the Wind River Mountains have it all. Jedediah Smith, Bill Sublette, Jim Bridger and a host of other mountain men found the Winds to be a beaver paradise. The range’s South Pass was the key to the Oregon and California Trails crossing the Continental Divide. And the headwaters of the Seeds-kee-dee—oops, we mean the Green River—are here.
Best Mountain Range—Small
Okay, we’ll admit the Pioneer Mountains made the “Best of the West” because our editor has climbed so many of the range’s peaks. Produced by Basin and Range faulting—if True West were a geology magazine, we’d explain that—the Pioneers are one of several small mountain ranges that surround Sun Valley, Idaho, and make the vacation mecca so spectacular.
Best Old West Trail
Santa Fe Trail
The Oregon Trail may have carried more people, but the Santa Fe Trail is older—by nearly 20 years—having been opened by William Becknell, a merchant-trader, in 1821. Initially running from Franklin, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the trail earned its way into the “Best of the West” through its importance to Old West commerce. Soon after the trail opened, freight conveys were carrying upwards of a million dollars a year in Mexican silver and merchandise between Missouri and the Republic of Mexico’s northern outpost. Readers’ Choice: Santa Fe Trail
Best Scenic Road Trip Under 100 Miles
Ketchum, Idaho, to the Stanley Basin
This road trip through South-central Idaho is one of our favorites. From Ketchum, Idaho State Highway 75 heads north (for the most part), following the Big Wood River toward its source near Galena Pass—8,701 feet—where the highway drops into the Stanley Basin, home to the headwaters of the Salmon River, dubbed by William Clark as “The River of No Return.” And did we mention alpine peaks? The route snakes between the Boulder, Smoky, White Cloud and Sawtooth Mountains. Readers’ Choice: Highway 49/California
Best Scenic Road Trip Under 500 Miles
Yosemite National Park to Lone Pine, California
The drive from Yosemite Village alongside the Merced River will have you craning your neck as you attempt to take in the towering granite walls that define Yosemite Valley. Then as you climb along California State Highway 120 to Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass—9,945 feet—you’ll wish you’d brought more film for your camera. Once on U.S. 395, heading south toward Lone Pine, you’ll think you’re in Switzerland as you gaze at the Sierra Nevada Mountains’ rugged eastern escarpment. Readers’ Choice: Beartooth Highway/Near Red Lodge, MT
Best Beef Jerky
El Reed 1870s Terlingua Beef Jerky
This stuff’s so tasty, our mouths are watering as we write this. The recipe for El Reed’s jerky was handed down to Stiles Belcher from his great-grandfather, Texas cattleman and gunfighter Aaron “El” Reed (whose story was published in the Aug. 1976 True West).
Best Cowboy China
“Rodeo Pattern” Dinnerware
Royse City, Texas
Serve a meal on these rustic Western place settings or, if you’ve got the collector’s bug, invest in this heirloom-quality china for the future. The Rodeo Westward Ho was the most popular pattern of the Wallace China Company, which produced it in the 1940s-1960s. Its collectible status resulted in the 1990s reproduction of this rodeo set that no Western family’s dinner table should be without. And no, we at True West magazine don’t make it. Readers’ Choice: True West’s “Rodeo Pattern” Dinnerware
Best Desert Critter to Sink its Fangs Into You
Last year the gila monster won, but then our readers pointed out that gilas don’t have fangs. So, in an effort to be accurate—we are True West after all—we thought we’d pick a critter with hypodermic needles for teeth. Fearsome . . . when one of these babies sets to buzzin’, octogenarians have been known to jump higher ’n a split-rail fence. Readers’ Choice: Diamondback Rattlesnake
Best Old West Coffee Company
New Mexico Piñon Coffee
Albuquerque, New Mexico
With its coffee beans carefully roasted in a small-batch roaster, it’s no wonder the New Mexico Piñon nut and five-bean blend of Arabica coffee is recognized as unique in 11 countries (including the U.S.). New Mexico’s Piñon tree is often called the Manna of the Desert, perhaps because there’s an aphrodisiac quality inherent in the nut. Readers’ Choice: Arbuckles’ Coffee
Best Place to Find an Antique Watch
Old Time Antique Pocket Watch
Red Wing, Minnesota
We love this place so much, the True West staff got its favorite boss a seven-jewel, circa 1918 Waltham from here. (If you ever meet Bob Boze Bell, be sure to ask him for the time.) Re-enactors, SASS and CMSA members often purchase Old West-era pocket watches, not only to add to their costumes’ authenticity, but also to own a genuine piece of history.
Best Rocky Mountain Oysters—Bulls ‘n’ Beyond
Rock Creek Lodge
Near Clinton, Montana
Hispanic cowboy at Texas’ King Ranch asks a Boys’ Life reporter while throwing certain body parts of unfortunate male cattle into a Hefty bag: “You ever try a Rocky Mountain oyster?” Boys’ Life reporter: “Uh, no.” Cowboy: “Man, that’s the best eating in the world.” Boys’ Life reporter: “I’ll take your word for it.” Rock Creek Lodge’s Testicle Festival allows over 15,000 visitors to gobble up 1.5 tons of the aforementioned delicacy. Readers’ Choice: Proud Cut Saloon/Cody, WY
Best Western Action Figure
Mark Twain Caricature Figurine
Although Dog Soldiers specializes in authentic American Indian 12-inch action figures, the whimsical five-inch Mark Twain caricature figurine is our favorite. They also have other figures for the kid in you, including a Chiricahua Apache War Leader and an 1870s Buffalo Soldier. Readers’ Choice: Johnny West by Marx Toys/Sebring, OH
Best Western Auction
Greg Martin Auctions
San Francisco, California
Greg Martin Auctions—started in 2002 by three former members of Butterfields Auctions—offers over a century of combined auction and appraisal experience. The firm specializes in weapons, armor and historic memorabilia, and recently sold a Colt Model 1849 pocket revolver for a $740,000 bid. Readers’ Choice: (Tie) Brian Lebel’s Annual Cody Old West Show & Auction/Cody, WY and Little John’s Auction Service/Orange, CA
Best Western Mythical Creature
Last fall, Dr. Jane Goodall announced on NPR that Bigfoot exists because Native Americans mention the same sounds when describing him, and London’s Natural History Museum couldn’t identify what British scientists believe to be a Bigfoot hair. (To her credit, Goodall did admit that it’s the romantic in her that wants to believe.) Readers’ Choice: Jackalope
Best Wyatt Earp Collectible
Gold Plated 1873 Colt .45 Revolver
Fort Collins, Colorado
The first in their gunfighter series, this is truly a work of art. The heirloom piece is layered in 24-karat gold and nickel silver, with walnut laser-carved grips and the images of Wyatt and the men who fought beside him near the O.K. Corral. Now if Wyatt Earp had been packing a gold plated hogleg in 1881, he and the McLaurys may really have had something to fight about.
Best Indian War Chief
Geronimo did it all. He was tough, shrewd, a survivor of many ambushes and once outran (on foot) a mounted Mexican militia all the way back to his home in Arizona. Late in his career, he led almost the entire U.S. Army on a wild goose chase all over Mexico and never was captured. True, he surrendered on four different occasions, but it was always on his terms. Readers’ Choice: Crazy Horse
Best Mountain Man
He scouted the Louisiana Purchase and Pacific Northwest with Lewis and Clark. He trapped the headwaters of the Missouri River. He’s credited with being the first white man to see the geysers of Yellowstone National Park. He outran the Blackfeet in a race for his life. And unlike some other famous mountain men, John Colter died at home in bed—of jaundice. Readers’ Choice: Jim Bridger
Best Old West Lawman
Wild Bill Hickok
Wild Bill Hickok pinned on the star and held his own in hellholes such as Hays City, Wichita and Abilene. These towns were as rough as they come and Hickok handled them all with style, aplomb and an even hand. Our hats are way off to you Bill (even though your name was James). Readers’ Choice: Wyatt Earp
When it comes to brazen outlaw achievement, we have to go with the roughest, meanest, lawdog-killer of the West—the one, the only, Bonnie Parker of Bonnie & Clyde fame. Where others talked, Bonnie killed and robbed and was just as nasty as any of the men in her gang. And she went out in a blaze of bullets. Cars or no cars, this was one bad outlaw girl. Readers’ Choice: Belle Starr
If you count the number of his killings, John Wesley Hardin takes the prize, hands down. If you tally the robberies and deeds of derring-do, Jesse James is numero uno. But when you factor style, staying power, sheer bravery and imagination, Butch Cassidy is The Man. Readers’ Choice: Billy the Kid
Best Western Gambler
When it comes to the Knights of the Green Cloth, it’s impossible to get past the most famous gambler from Georgia—John Henry Holliday. True, there may have been gamblers who were better card players (Tombstone’s Dick Clark) and card sharps who lasted longer (Wyatt Earp), but the deadly Southern dentist casts a wide shadow for such a skinny little lunger. (Of course, we wouldn’t dare say that to his face!) Readers’ Choice: Doc Holliday
Best Buffalo Hunt
Scenic Mesa Ranch
We’re not talking smokeless powder, scoped rifles and penned-up buffalo. When we say “Old West buffalo hunt,” we mean just that. And that’s what head guide Dan Deuter offers. If you’re good enough, Dan will allow you to hunt from horseback, wearing period clothing and shooting a blackpowder rifle with iron sights. The only thing closer to the Old West would be using a Sioux-made, compound bow and arrows. Readers’ Choice: Hawes Ranch/Ford, KS
Best Cliff Dwelling
Mesa Verde National Park, Southwestern Colorado
Cliff Palace is still home to secrets archaeologists have yet to unravel, such as why the Anasazi lived here for only about 100 years before migrating south. During the Cliff Palace tour, you’ll descend approximately 100 feet and get a close-up view of the park’s largest cliff dwelling—a 288-foot complex of 151 rooms and 23 kivas where about 150 people lived at any one time from A.D. 1190 to 1280. But plan your trip accordingly, Cliff Palace is open only from mid-April through October.
Best Desert Zoo
Sonoran Desert Museum
No, the winner isn’t the Phoenix freeways during rush hour, although that was a close second. You won’t see javelinas, hummingbirds, chuckwallas and harvester ants running around on the freeway’s new rubberized asphalt, but you will see them in this lush Sonoran desert zoo, which has been voted “the most distinctive zoo in the United States.” Readers’ Choice: Sonoran Desert Museum
Best Haunted Historic Site
Bird Cage Theatre
“They look like birds in a cage . . . they haven’t got a chance,” songwriter Arthur J. Lamb remarked in the 1880s, while watching the ladies in the cribs plying for male attention. One famous haunt occurred inside a crib frequented by the Clantons. For six months after a statue of Wyatt Earp was placed there, the statue’s hat was continually thrown into the casino. After the statue was moved to the crib Wyatt frequented, the activity ceased. Some feuds never die.
Best Historical Fort
The Fort Larned National Historic Site, located on the Santa Fe Trail, contains nine original buildings, which have been restored to look like they did when the military post was charged with protecting emigrant and freight traffic on the Kansas plains.
Best Indian Pow-wow
Red Earth Festival
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Conceived in 1986, this annual summer festival preserves Native American culture by bringing in dancers, drummers, singers and artists from more than 100 Indian tribes. The color of the Indian costumes . . . the drum beat . . . the art . . . the excitement . . . the food. It’s everything a John Wayne movie isn’t. Readers’ Choice: Red Earth Festival
Best Lost Mine
Somewhere in Arizona
You’re likely to come home with a sunburn and not a pot of gold when you climb the Superstition Mountains in search of this misplaced mine. The Deutsche Man, Jacob Waltz, moved to Phoenix in the 1870s and never revealed the location of the gold ore he sometimes used to purchase goods. After his homestead was flooded in February 1891, Waltz supposedly told the secret of the mine’s location to his friend, Julia Thomas. No one’s hit pay dirt since Waltz (if he ever really did). Readers’ Choice: Lost Dutchman
Best Roadside Attraction
Wall, South Dakota
Yes, we know it won last year, but if you haven’t been to Wall Drug, then you’ve led a sheltered life. This tourist stop on the Dakota prairie knows more about advertising and promotion than Madison Avenue. We doubt if anyone can tell us how many billboards have been erected along America’s roadways touting Wall Drug’s free ice water. Whoever said all roads lead to Rome was wrong. All roads lead to Wall Drug. Readers’ Choice: Wall Drug
Cheyenne Frontier Days
The rodeo called “The daddy of ’em all” began in 1897 when a representative of the Union Pacific Railroad persuaded towns along its tracks to host a fair or celebration to entice travelers. The following year, Buffalo Bill brought his Wild West Show to Cheyenne, to the delight of 6,000 spectators. And Cheyenne has never looked back. Today, the annual July rodeo showcases every event from bull dogging to bull riding.
Dodge National Circuit Finals
Match the best circuit competitors with the best stock professional rodeo has to offer and you have the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo. Held every March in Pocatello, this is an event even the most hard-core rodeo fan will love. Cowboy Up!
Best Stage Ride
Lincoln County Overland Stage Co.
Lincoln, New Mexico
Ed Heimann will talk your ear off on everything he knows about his passion—stagecoach travel—and he’ll also provide a little biased history about Lincoln County, Fort Sumner and Billy the Kid’s other stomping grounds. The Lincoln County Overland Stage Co. offers a 90-minute, 51⁄2-mile ride over the Ozanne Trail. You won’t go as fast as in the Richard Petty Driving School, but it’s fun and educational. Readers’ Choice: Knott’s Berry Farm/Buena Vista, CA
Best Wagon Train Experience
Teton Wagon Train Adventures
Genuine wagon trains take you through the Teton Mountains past high meadows, beautiful streams and clear lakes. There’s plenty of cowboy entertainment and all the Dutch oven chow you can eat. And if you’re lucky, you may even see a moose.
Best Western Festival
Festival of the West
Every year, over 70,000 people converge at the annual Festival of the West for a taste of all things Western. With its Western art, food, crafts, concerts, celebrities, mounted shooting events and chuck wagon grub, this is one hoppin’ event. And if you’ve never visited Scottsdale in the late winter, do yourself a favor and try it. Readers’ Choice: Festival of the West
Best Western Riverboat Cruise
Columbia River Cruise, American West Steamboat Co.
This seven-night, 1,000-mile cruise aboard a sternwheel riverboat up the Columbia and Snake Rivers is steeped in history. The route follows much of that taken by Lewis and Clark, and it parallels the Western portion of the Oregon Trail. Activities include talks by the on-board historian, stops at scenic and historical sites and nightly entertainment. And did we mention food? Bring your appetite, you’ll need it. Readers’ Choice: Liberty Belle Riverboat at Walt Disney World/Orlando, FL
Best Western Train Ride
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
The beauty of the San Juan Mountains is best seen from a turn-of-the-century rail coach or parlor car. The splendor of spring or the serenity of winter as seen along the 26-mile excursion between Durango and Silverton, Colorado, will have you hooked on this historical steam-driven adventure. Reader’s Choice: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Best Wild West Show
Great American Wild West Show
You’ve read our 50 Western Legends, but what do you know of the legends that unfolded at this year’s Wild West Show? Did you see Pistol Packin’ Paula spinning her nickel-plated Colt 45s and cracking her two eight-foot bull whips at over 750 miles per hour? Or stunt rider Max Reynolds revamping his Buffalo Bill role from Buffalo Girls? What about the six-horse stagecoach holdup? Come on . . . you at least saw the dance hall girls? If you haven’t said yes to any of these, snatch yourself a ticket. And soon.
Best Wild West Towns
Angels Camp, California: When someone points you to Jackass Hill, you know you’ve hit a wild town. Mark Twain stayed here at his friend James Gillis’ cabin. Then he’d head over to the Angels Hotel, where he first heard how miners passed their time—gambling on frog races. The wagers often cost a losing miner an arm and a leg. Of course, frauds were commonplace, and many a loser’s frog was discovered to be full of buckshot long after the winner had left. But if you have a hankering for some weird, wild fun, come in May for the Jumping Frog Jubilee.
Austin, Texas: Home to Austin City Limits, Sixth Street, Driskill Hotel, LBJ Library and Museum, O. Henry’s home, intoxicated UT coeds, Texas Tradition cowboy boots and the $80 million Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Ted Koppel has called it “the last liberal bastion in Texas,” which means it’s just as wild as it was when Rip Ford and Sam Houston hung their hats here.
Cody, Wyoming: Tourists waking up in Cody won’t think they’re in Des Moines. Buffalo Bill Cody imbued his Wild West spirit into this town he founded in 1896, and it’s still here today. From rodeo—Cody calls itself the “rodeo capital of the world”—to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center to the saloon in the Irma Hotel, the town’s Western roots are sunk deep in the Wyoming soil. Perhaps Cody isn’t as wild as it was when Buffalo Bill was here, but it comes close.
Deadwood, South Dakota: Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane may be gone, but their memory is alive and prospering. Capitalizing on its colorful past, Deadwood does everything it can to maintain its Old West image. Elsewhere in South Dakota’s Black Hills the highwaymen may have disappeared, but not so in Deadwood. Local businessmen employ an army of bandits—albeit the one-armed kind—to ensure the town remains true to its gambling roots.
Dodge City, Kansas: As far as “wild” goes, modern Dodge City can’t hold a candle to its predecessor, rightly called “Queen of the Cow Towns.” But if you visit Front Street on Saturday night, you’ll get a bit of the town’s Old West flavor. And if you’re hankering for the real treatment, just walk in a restaurant and order rack of lamb. This is still a cattle town—mosey downwind from the feedlots and you’ll get the drift—and folks don’t cotton much to sheep.
Glenwood Springs, Colorado: We all know that Doc Holliday died here in the Hotel Glenwood on November 8, 1887, though by the time he arrived in town, Doc’s wild nature had been subdued by tuberculosis. Yet, even without Doc, Glenwood Springs has always been one “hot” town. In case you think we’re referring to the hot springs that put the town on the map, we’re not. Throughout its history, Glenwood Springs has had so many fires, it’s a wonder the town’s still standing.
Lincoln, Nebraska: If you want to see the modern Wild West, visit Lincoln on a Saturday night after the University of Nebraska has walloped Oklahoma or Texas. When Cornhuskers speak of shoot-outs, they’re talking about the ones that use pigskins, not hoglegs.
McCall, Idaho: Okay, we’ll admit that McCall isn’t as wild as it used to be. Ever since the town bars stopped allowing their patrons to wear firearms while they drank, things have quieted down a smidgen. Today, McCall locals court outsiders—they call ’em tourists—instead of shooting them.
Medora, North Dakota: We figure any town that lists its ordinances on its official website—17 of them—either has to be wild or seeks to ensure that it never gets that way again. Still, if you want to visit Medora when it’s at its wildest, try coming in January during a blizzard.
Miles City, Montana: Gen. Nelson A. Miles’ ban on alcohol didn’t keep his soldiers from seeking out the liquor and ladies in brothels and saloons. In 1881, a thousand bottles of beer a day were consumed in Miles City’s 42 saloons. Although today the town is more respectable, we’re certain you’ll find a few saloons where you can live it up.
Northfield, Minnesota: Ever since the James boys and Youngers shot up Northfield on September 7, 1876, the town has been trying to live up to its wild past. It comes close the first weekend after each Labor Day when locals stage the “last battle of the Civil War,” re-enacting the famous raid on the First National Bank. If you want to see an event where the outcome is unknown, take in a tractor pull.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: We have a thing for cow towns, so we’ll admit that cattle got Oklahoma City on this list. The town’s historic Stockyards City hosts the world’s largest cattle auction. And if steer auctions are too tame for you, then head over to Club Rodeo and climb aboard one of the bulls for the longest eight seconds of your life.
Pendleton, Oregon: Contrary to what you may think, Pendleton is not a sheepish town, despite the city fathers touting the Pendleton Woolen Mills as a prime tourist attraction. Pendleton knows how to party, especially each September when it hosts the Pendleton Round-Up, a rodeo institution. Besides, any town that would feature booze (Pendleton Canadian Whisky—British English spelling, no “e”) on its official website has to be wild.
Prescott, Arizona: If you want to know how wild Prescott is without going there, rent a copy of Junior Bonner. The film may be fiction, but the town’s Whiskey Row—Montezuma Street—isn’t. A hundred years ago, the district sported 40 saloons. Today there aren’t that many, so you’ll be safe enough bringing your spouse and kids. Altercations still break out occasionally, but they’re more often between tourists fighting over scarce parking places.
Ruidoso, New Mexico: This Lincoln County haunt of Billy the Kid witnessed so many wild times during the late 19th century that some of the wild just naturally percolated down to today. If gambling fits your definition of wild, Ruidoso offers the Billy the Kid Casino.
. . . , Utah: We know Utah has Western towns—it’s west of the Continental Divide, after all—but wild? We’re afraid not. But that’s probably just a ploy on the part of Utah officials to get you into the backcountry where the land is not only wild but also scenic.
Winnemucca, Nevada: You know a town’s got to be wild if it takes a perfectly good motorcycle and sets it ablaze just for fun. That’s what Winnemuccans do every May during their four-day motorcycle rally. Of course, Winnemucca is in Nevada, so for a really wild time, try your luck with the galloping dominos—craps for the uninitiated—at one of the town’s casinos.
Best Mining Town
Silver City, New Mexico
Despite the ups and downs of the copper-mining industry, Silver City keeps booming. It offers a thriving art community, tons of history, a blues festival, pro rodeo, even a strong film society. Plus, it has been voted one of the Best Small Towns in America and one of the Healthiest Places to Live and Retire in the United States. No wonder Billy’s mom moved here in the 1870s. Readers’ Choice: Virginia City, NV
Best Western Town in Need of a Name Change
First off, don’t fire up your e-mail to tell us we misspelled “Bagdad.” We didn’t. Maybe the Iraqis felt compelled to put an “h” in their city’s name, but Arizonians didn’t. Still Bagdad, Arizona, is close enough to Baghdad, Iraq, for us to suggest a name change, especially in light of our recent dustup. After all, what American town wants to be named for a loser?
Best Haunted Hotel
Built in 1907, this historic hotel boasts marble pillars and Tiffany stained glass windows. The hotel is so wonderful, a few of the guests have chosen never to leave. Strange ghostly happenings occur on a regular basis when the sun sets on this Arizona treasure. Readers’ Choice: St. James Hotel/Cimarron, New Mexico
Best Historic Western Hotels
Brown Palace, Denver
Grand Union Hotel, Fort Benton
Grand Hill Hotel, Virginia City
St. James Hotel, Cimarron
Governor Hotel, Portland
Driskill Hotel, Austin
Irma Hotel, CodyAlamo
San Antonio, Texas
We don’t want future generations to have to “remember the Alamo,” but some pesky termites certainly have taken a chunk out of this great site. Fortunately, most of the structure is stone, and a state-of-the-art termite extermination system promises to kill the rest of these wood addicts. In the meantime, wise men say to move up your trip to visit the Alamo.
Coronado National Forest
Near Sunsites, Arizona
These towering rock pinnacles proved a natural fortress for the Chiricahua Apache Cochise and his tribe. When he died in 1874, Cochise was supposedly buried in or around this impregnable fortress. If you find the grave, be sure to let us know.
Fort Laramie, Wyoming
No walled fortifications? What kind of frontier fort is this? The kind Oregon Trail pioneers were glad to reach since it was the last stop for a long time for supplies, medicine and news. Although half of the fort is gone, what remains is well-preserved.
St. Paul, Minnesota
Grab a copy of the Old Fort Snelling Instruction Book for Fife and play some spirited 19th-century tunes when you walk through the gates of Minnesota’s oldest military center. That frontier spirit is just what fort re-enactors encourage as they whisk you back to 1827, where you can learn how to make frontier toothpaste. (Charcoal and salt . . . it’s a wonder people even had teeth back then.)
Promontory Summit, Utah
“May God continue the unity of our country, as the Railroad unites the two great Oceans of the World.” Thus read side four of the spike symbolically tapped into the track’s laurel tie on May 10, 1869. Today, replicas of the Central Pacific’s Jupiter and the Union Pacific’s 119 steam locomotives reunite at this national historic site.
Jesse James Farm & Museum
This has been one heck of a year for the birthplace of Jesse James. With the Jesse movie matinee in March and a James Gang gun exhibit on loan from collector Ralph Ganis through October of this year, the museum has been doing its part to spice up this historical landmark.
Little Bighorn Battlefield
Near Crow Agency, Montana
Once known as Custer Battlefield, this site where Custer went wrong changed its name in 1991. Even though the battle is still commonly referred to as Custer’s Last Stand, the monument shows you how it can also be Sitting Bull’s Last Stand. Despite the Indians saying bully to the general, they were still herded onto government reservations.
The life-size replicas may seem tacky, but people want to know where those famous gunfighters stood. If you squint, you can picture them blasting away. (The hot sun may help you squint.) For those who prefer their eyes wide open, walk a few more steps and watch the gunfight re-enactment.
After the flat, drab Platte scenery, is it any wonder that Oregon Trail emigrants were astonished by Scotts Bluff? Typical of many diary entries is Alonzo Delano’s poetic description in 1849: “It seemed as if the wand of a magician had passed over a city, and like that in Arabian Nights, had converted all living things to stone.”
This temporary refuge was Sacramento’s earliest settlement and the destination point for California emigrants. And where do you think the rescuers for the Donner Party came from? Why, this fort of course! Due to an 1847 map published in Damstadt, Germany, this reconstructed fort looks just like it did before gold seekers overran Sutter’s properties.
Best Old West website
“It’s a chancy job and it makes a man watchful and a little lonely,” was the end of the announcement to the first adult Western radio show, Gunsmoke. Listen to Gunsmoke’s first show, “Billy the Kid” (among others), or tune in to other Western radio programs, such as Frontier Gentleman and The Six Shooter. Readers’ Choice: www.TrueWestMagazine.com
Best Western Movie Website
Amazon.com has hooked up with ClassicWesterns.com to make purchasing your favorite Western films as easy as possible. With Amazon’s handy synopsis, you can familiarize yourself with new Westerns as well as old-time favorites. Readers’ Choice: www.IMDB.com
Best Old West Computer Game
Outlaws by LucasArts
Ex-marshal James Anderson has a hankerin’ for revenge after his farm is plowed under to make way for the railroad. Outlaws’ muted earth backgrounds recall the classic ’60s Westerns, and its replay value is rich because it has three game variations. One variation includes multiplayer mode, which allows for each player’s character to have his or her own unique fighting style. Get your trigger finger limber and download a demo from http://www.lucasarts.com/products/outlaws/
Best Western Computer Game
Oregon Trail (5th Edition) by The Learning Company
Geared toward young cowpokes in grades four-eight, this Westward trail comes to life through the history-based journal entries of the fictional Montgomery family. Some of the challenges faced along the trail include health complications, supply problems and route decisions. This first-hand understanding of wagon train families will encourage your children to research and write about their own experiences.
Best Western Museums
Arizona: Desert Caballeros, Wickenburg
California: Autry Museum of Western Heritage, Los Angeles
Colorado: Black American West Museum, Denver
Idaho: National Oregon-California Trail Museum, Montpelier
Kansas: Old Cowtown Museum, Wichita
Minnesota: Minnesota History Center, St. Paul
Missouri: Jesse James Farm & Museum, Kearney
Montana: Custer Battlefield Museum, Garryowen
Nebraska: Harold Warp Pioneer Village, Minden
Nevada: Nevada State Museum, Carson City
New Mexico: Hubbard Museum, Ruidoso Downs
North Dakota: Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Washburn
Oklahoma: National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City
Oregon: High Desert Museum, Bend
South Dakota: Journey Museum, Rapid City
Texas: Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco
Utah: Museum of Church History and Art, Salt Lake City
Washington: Fort Nisqually, Tacoma
Wyoming: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody
Best Branding Iron Museum
National Ranching Heritage Center
A rancher’s brand is “the heraldry of the range,” according to West Texas chronicler J. Evetts Haley. In 2000, the NRHC began collecting historical and contemporary branding irons for its permanent exhibit, Irons from the Fire, and now has over 100 branding irons.
Best Brothel Museum
Miss Hattie’s Bordello Museum
San Angelo, Texas
This bawdy house was a landmark of the dubious kind from the time ladies started entertaining gentlemen callers in the mid-1800s until the Texas Rangers (the law-enforcement officers, not the major league baseball team) shut it down in 1946. Miss Hattie’s Museum gives visitors a G-rated look at life in a Texas bordello. Readers’ Choice: Birdcage Theatre/Tombstone, AZ
Best Cowboy Museum
Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
This is the only heritage center in the world devoted to America’s original sport—the rodeo. The best of the Old West is preserved in Heritage Hall, which is chock-full of historical rodeo gear. Readers’ Choice: Cowboy Hall of Fame/Oklahoma City, OK
Best Cowgirl Museum
National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
Fort Worth, Texas
The cowgirl spirit thrives in this beautiful, action-packed, interactive, awe-inspiring, new museum that celebrates the courage and determination of Western women. Its centerpiece is the Hall of Fame, honoring over 160 artists, writers, businesswomen, educators, ranchers and rodeo cowgirls. Readers’ Choice: National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame
Best Antique Stove Restorer
Stove Black Richardson
Good Time Stove Co.
Somewhere in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts
Stove Black—cross our hearts, we’re not making up his name—believes in the quality and craftsmanship of yesterday’s stoves and ovens and has devoted his life to restoring them to their original luster and function. Stove Black’s daughter Sara is the Stove Princess. Readers’ Choice: Don Williamson/Rapid City, SD
Best Bootjack Maker
Crawford & Co.
If you want a lift, stick out your thumb. Maybe a passing car will give you a ride. But if you want to pull off a pair of cowboy boots that you’ve been wearing all day, you’d better grab one of Charlie Crawford’s bootjacks. Charlie has been making handcrafted bootjacks since 1983, individually sand-casting each base from iron, aluminum or bronze. Readers’ Choice: Crawford & Co.
Best Bootmaker-Working Cowboy
Blucher Boot Co.
Since the company’s founding by Gus Blucher in 1915, Bluchers has never lost sight of its most important—and most demanding—customer: the American cowboy. Blucher boots are handmade, comfortable and guaranteed to “never lose a stirrup.” Readers’ Choice: Olathe/Mercedes, TX
Stewart boots are economical and comfortable. Our editor has owned two pairs and swears by them. Stewart also sells to Burt Reynolds, Pat Benatar, Clint Eastwood and even provided the boots for the movie City Slickers. Readers’ Choice: Olathe/Mercedes, TX
Union City, California
We haven’t found any other boot that out of the box feels like you’ve been wearing ’em for years. All the fancy stuff Ariat uses in its soles is an example of what happens when you blend technology with tradition. And all this from a company that shipped its first pair of boots in 1993. Readers’ Choice: Tony Llama/Fort Worth, TX
Best Gun Leather Artisan—Historical
El Paso Saddlery
El Paso, Texas
For 114 years, El Paso Saddlery has been making some of the best gun leather around. Today you can get the “Cheyenne” rig used in the 1880s and 1890s, or a “Duke” rig commemorating John Wayne. Like the company’s slogan says, “Why buy a reproduction when you can have the real thing?”
Best Gun Leather Artisan—Reproduction
Wm. Brown Holster Co.
Wm. Brown’s speciality is handcrafted, 1800s-style gun holsters. Located across from the O.K. Corral, these craftsmen turn out quality rigs. Our favorite is the Curly Bill Brocius holster set, like the one worn by Powers Booth in the movie Tombstone.
Best Hat Maker
In business for over 20 years and selling hats worldwide, this family operation was the first hat maker to sell the “Gus” crease hat inspired by the movie Lonesome Dove. Each hat is hand-creased and hand-fitted to each oval and size. Catalena hats will make you look good even if you start renting pigs.
Best Hat Maker—Celebrity
We again tip our hat to Tom Hirt, whose advice includes: roan or goat leather make the best sweatbands; the best hat fur is beaver; and the best care for your hat is to wipe it with a damp towel every day in a counter-clockwise direction.
Best Historical Hat
Ever since John B. Stetson put some beaver felt over a hat block, Stetson hats have been a part of the Old West. For a true piece of history, we’ll go with a Stetson. Readers’ Choice: D Bar J/Las Vegas, NV
Best Knife Maker
Cowboy Bob Giles
Cowboy Bob’s Frontier Trappings
Bob makes his 1800s-era knives from recycled sawmill blades. Each knife has a tapered tang and a wide blade for perfect balance. His handles are made of elk and deer antler, buffalo and cow horn, stag, bone ebony and mastodon ivory. Readers’ Choice: Buck Knives/El Cajon, CA
Best Saddle Maker—Period
Sawtooth Saddle Co.
Sawtooth Saddles are handmade from the tree up. Ride all day, work cattle, compete in mounted shooting or just take pride in owning one. You’ll be sure to hand this saddle down to your son or daughter. Reader’s Choice: Marc Oliver Saddlery/Fort Collins, CO
Best Saddle Maker—Modern
Circle Y of Yokam
Circle Y produces one of the flashiest show saddles you’ll ever lay your eyes on. If flash is not your game, the company makes a wide variety of roping and general-use saddles that are as bulletproof as they come, not that you’d ever shoot one. Readers’ Choice: Billy Cook/Sulphur, OK
Best Safe Company
Sun Welding Safe Co.
Simi Valley, California
For over 20 years, Sun Welding has manufactured superior gun safes that are as functional as they are well-finished. They’re made to protect whatever you put in them. We recommend guns and cash.
Every piece of Clint Orms’ work is forged, cut and finished by hand. Like nothing else you’ve ever seen, Clint’s attention to detail is staggering. He produces the “best of the best” Western buckles and finishings, made with sterling silver, 14-karat tri-colored gold and precious gems. Readers’ Choice: Montana Silversmiths/Columbus, MT
Best Stagecoach Builder
Hansen Wheel & Wagon Shop
Lecher, South Dakota
Once again we give the nod to Hansen. For over 20 years, the Hansen family has handcrafted the best coaches and carriages money can buy, whether they are 18-passenger Deadwood stagecoaches or authentic replica Concord stagecoaches built to be exact copies of the 1880 Abbot-Downing coach,
Best Tent Maker
David Ellis Canvas Products
Dave Ellis is “a tent maker to the cowboy.” Of course, you don’t have to ride a horse in order to own one of his quality tents. But spending the night in his popular 10-foot Range Tent, nestled in an Ellis Cavalry Bedroll, is guaranteed to make you dream you’re campaigning with George Custer. Readers’ Choice: Art Davis/Denver, CO
Best Tipi Maker
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Okay, so Reese doesn’t make its tipis from cured buffalo hides the way the Plains Indians did, but buffalo aren’t as plentiful as they once were. Remember all of those buffalo hunters? Reese takes top honors because of the “13 points of excellence” that go into every tipi the company makes. Each tipi is made from water-repellent, pre-shrunk, mildew-resistant army duck. Readers’ Choice: David Ellis Canvas Products/Durango, CO
Best Trophy Buckle Maker
Frontier Trophy Buckles
Aztec, New Mexico
Vicki and Eddie Felder custom-make each of Frontier’s buckles by hand, whether for a national, high school or collegiate rodeo. Even a couple of us here at True West are proud to say we’ve won buckles by Frontier Trophy Buckles. And they weren’t for mutton bustin’.
Best Western Movie
Ride with the Devil
And you thought we’d pick Tombstone. Set in the Western border state of Missouri, Ride with the Devil captures the bitterness that pitted neighbor against neighbor and the suffering that spared no one on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Director Ang Lee’s use of period weapons, clothing and language adds a plus to this film’s A rating. Readers’ Choice: Tombstone
Best Charles Bronson Western Movie
We’ll concede that Bronson isn’t an Apache (for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, he plays the mixed-blood Apache, Chato), but for our money, he would’ve made a good one. Director Michael Winner moves the story at a nail-biting clip, unlike the pace set by Sergio Leone, director of Once upon a Time in the West (also starring Bronson), which was our second choice.
Best Made-for-TV Western
Finally we have a Western that realistically portrays the struggles of a cowboy trying to find his place in changing times. The movie is directed by Simon Wincer (Lonesome Dove, Quigley Down Under) and stars Tom Selleck as the lead. An ensemble cast delivers a Western we’ll watch again and again.
Best Western TV Series Ever
Who can forget Adam, Hoss, Little Joe and their father Ben Cartwright riding across their Ponderosa Ranch to begin every episode? What did it matter if Papa Cartwright would’ve been a 10-year-old when he first married and started siring children in order to have such old sons? When the TV show aired on NBC in 1959, it brought us an hour of Western adventure—in color—every Saturday evening (moved to Sunday in its third season). Readers’ Choice: Gunsmoke
Best Living Western Actor
Tom Selleck so captures the image of the cowboy and the Old West, movie directors can put him in Australia and never miss a beat. Who can forget Selleck bouncing a wooden bucket as he showed off his rifle marksmanship in Quigley Down Under? Selleck has almost single-handedly kept the Western genre alive, and he’s so believable in his roles, it’s impossible not to get lost in the story.
Best Living Western Actress
Perhaps it’s her red hair, or maybe her Irish temperament, but on screen Maureen O’Hara exudes a confidence and determination that must have been displayed by many pioneer women. We can think of no other actress who could have so often held her ground while standing toe-to-toe with John Wayne. Readers’ Choice: Maureen O’Hara
Best B-Western Actor
For kids in the 1940s and early ’50s, Gene Autry was the Old West. No matter that his movies and screen character bore little resemblance to the real Old West, the Saturday matinee escape that he offered America’s youth was wholesome and fun. And if we had a category titled “Best Former Actor Businessman,” Gene would win that, too. Readers’ Choice: John Wayne
Best Western Film Villain
Jack Elam owns this category. For years, this former accountant menaced his way across big and small screens, playing Western villains who were not merely bad, but evil. Possessing a face not meant for kissing leading ladies, Elam—with his glass eye—became the bad guy we loved to hate. Readers’ Choice: Jack Palance
Best Source for Classic Western Movies
Buck Cassidy Video
Hazlet, New Jersey
If you’re looking for B-oaters, look no further than Buck Cassidy. He stocks some even our diehard Western film buffs haven’t heard of. Besides, you’ve got to admire a guy who’s still a proud member of the Buck Jones Rangers and Hopalong Cassidy fan clubs. Readers’ Choice: Westerns Channel on Encore
Best Western Film Festival
Little Hollywood Western Film Festival
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, How the West was Won, Gunsmoke and The Outlaw Josey Wales are just a few of the many Westerns filmed in the Kanab area, which makes it the ideal spot for “reel” cowboys to enjoy their favorite films. This Western film festival airs every August during the Western Legends Round-up celebration. While you’re here, you can even visit the set of Gunsmoke and walk into Miss Kitty’s saloon.
Best Western Movie Set
Built in the 1920s, bought by Gene Autry in the ’40s and then purchased by the Veluzat family in the ’90s, this place is full of movie history. The TV shows Have Gun Will Travel and Hopalong Cassidy were filmed there, as were more recent Westerns such as Wild Bill and Deadwood (to be released in 2004 by HBO). Readers’ Choice: Old Tucson Studios/Tucson, AZ
Best Country Artist of all Time
Johnny Cash’s career spans nearly five decades, and since 1955, he has made over 150 albums. Few other singers garner as much respect and admiration across generations and musical genres. In 1965, with inspiration from True West magazine and its founder Joe Austell Small, Cash produced The Ballads of the True West. Because of Cash and Small’s close friendship, we are proud to count Johnny Cash as part of our True West family.
Best Current Country CD
The Man Comes Around
Johnny Cash has never fit snuggly into any particular musical genre. Out of convenience we call him country, but let’s face it, Johnny Cash is, well, Johnny Cash! On his latest CD The Man Comes Around, Cash combines a wide diversity of music from Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” and transforms them into his own songs. The CD is a testament to the depth and talent of the Man in Black.
Best Country Male Vocalist (Other than Johnny Cash)
Marty Robbins signed his first record contract with Columbia Records in 1951 and soon had many number one hits, including “Singing the Blues,” “A White Sportcoat” and of course, “El Paso.” In 1959, he released his legendary Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (re-released on CD in 1999). Marty Robbins passed away in 1982, but he continues to be our country favorite.
Best Country Female Vocalist
Susanna Van Tassel
Honky-tonk angel Susanna Van Tassel is often compared to Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette. Her expressive voice is full, clear and every bit as captivating as those she’s compared to, especially on her latest CD, My Little Star.
Best Alt-Country/Americana CD
Just A Songwriter
Just A Songwriter is a laid-back, bluesy collection of well-written songs and inviting melodies. Butterill’s smooth smoky vocals and cool-handed slide guitar give the CD a sexy and seductive aura, just like the feeling you might have sitting in the mountains above Santa Cruz, California, on a warm summer evening, sipping red wine as you watch the sun melt away.
Best Alt-Country/Americana Male Artist
Steve Earle isn’t the kind of artist who compromises his beliefs and convictions to sell records. Despite the controversy he generated, Earle calls his latest CD Jerusalem “the most pro-American record I’ve made.” Sometimes it takes uncommon courage and integrity to stand up for what you believe, but this is often what separates good artists from great ones.
Best Alt-Country/Americana Female Artist
Lucinda Williams is finally receiving the recognition she so richly deserves. Who else can write and sing with such raw passion and feeling? Who else can bare her soul with so much honesty? Williams’ songs of love, lust, pain, loss and loneliness are as real as it gets.
Best Folk CD
Tom Russell combines his original material with some of his favorites from other artists in this exceptional work. The CD features three duets with his good friend Nanci Griffith, including “The Ballad of Sally Rose” and Griffith’s own “Gulf Coast Highway.” Russell uses first person narratives to bring his subjects to life. His modern artists and heroes speak to us directly, beautifully and powerfully.
Best Folk Male Artist
With his own combination of grace and grit, Slaid Cleaves stands tall among fellow Texas singer-songwriters, such as Ray Wylie Hubbard and Billy Joe Shaver. On his CD Broke Down, Cleaves paints vivid pictures of people down on their luck and of legends like Sandy Gray—a Canadian logger who loses his life untangling a logjam. Cleaves searches for grace where it is not easily found, and as with any great folk singer, it is the search that allows the music to come forth.
Best Folk Female Artist
Born to Mexican emigrants in 1955, and having grown up in San Antonio, Texas, Hinojosa understands the plight of hardworking people. With her rich soprano voice, she reflects her feelings and passions about life and death, struggle and sacrifice and love and truth. She sings with soulful honesty and intensity, and possesses a voice that will melt your heart.
Best Cowboy CD
Ken’s style is simple. Tell a good story in song with traditional guitar. Every song on the CD reflects some aspect of a true cowboy’s life and dreams. So sit back on a cool night by a crackling fire and listen to real music by a real cowboy.
Best Cowboy Balladeer
Bob Weaver of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame put it best: Don Edwards is “the best purveyor of cowboy music in America today,” which is why for the second year in a row, Edwards has won this category.
OK, so it may be a while before you see this category at the Grammys, but it’s a little difficult to pin down Joe West. Equipped with his tales of desperation, lost love, chemical dependency and rehab survivors, West blazes musical paths from South Dakota trailer parks to UFO souvenir shops in Roswell, New Mexico.
Best Honky-Tonk CD
Your Trailer or Mine?
Honky Tonk Confidential
Honky Tonk Confidential carries a torch for traditional Country and Western swing. The CD features “16 songs about loving, drinking, cheating, murdering and dying.” They may not be playing this CD on any top 40 country stations, but Your Trailer or Mine? is a honky-tonk barroom jukebox full of should-be country classics. Not only is the CD fun to listen to, we also love the cover art. By the way, Diana and Mike, can we have some more refrigerator magnets?
Best Bluegrass CD Blazing the West
Ross Nickerson’s bluegrass banjo turned up the heat on Western Swing on his latest CD, Blazing the West—a bluegrassy nod to some Western classics. With a little help from award-winning artists Riders in the Sky, Mike Bub of the Del McCoury Band and Darol Anger of the original David Grisman Quintet, Nickerson puts his bluegrass brand on songs such as “San Antonio Rose” and “Streets of Laredo.”
Best Country Western Saloon Vocalist
It’s no coincidence that our best Country & Western saloon vocalist performs in our “Best Western Saloon to get Smashed In,” the Buffalo Chip in Cave Creek, Arizona. With a silky smooth voice that is hauntingly close to Marty Robbins, Pat keeps ’em dancin’ close—or buckle polishing, as we like to say.