Best of the West
- Published September 30, 2002
Like the miners of old, we Westerners sometimes hoard our secret little gems, those favorite out-of-the-way treasures. You know, the best place to get an exotic beer, the meanest damn saloons, the wildest place to ride a bucking bronc, the best of the best in the West, bar none. Until now. For the first time ever, the staff of True West shares its best-kept secrets. We also give a nod to you, our readers. The Readers’ Poll reports your choices for the West’s best. Read it and reap!
Best Wild West Town
It may be cosmopolitan, but Austin’s Sixth Street is as wild as the Chisholm, Oregon and Santa Fe Trails combined. Tattoo parlors and every kind of waterin’ hole speak volumes. This is the former hangout of Sam Houston, Rip Ford and LBJ. Sure, you’re not likely to trip over coke spoons as often as patrons did in the ’70s, but any town that propelled the careers of Jerry Jeff Walker, Ann Richards and Molly Ivins—and likely taught the Bush girls how to drink—wins hands down.
Readers’ Choice: Dodge City, Kansas
Best Roadside Attraction
Wall, South Dakota
It’s tacky, it’s cheesy, it’s funnel cake and Black Hills gold, and it’s HUGE. If you’ve driven across the Northern Plains, you’ve undoubtedly been annoyed by the zillion billboards pollutin’ the Western landscape, but have you dug Wall Drug? The free ice water was a big deal in the days before A/C, but Wall Drug is still worth a stop if only to say: “That’s right, I am a tourist and proud of it.”
Readers’ Choice: Old Tucson Studios, Tucson, Arizona
Best Mining Town
Virginia City, Nevada
We’ll let Mark Twain pitch this one: “The atmosphere was so rarefied, on account of the great altitude, that one’s blood lay near the surface always and the scratch of a pin was a disaster worth worrying about, for the chances were that a grievous erysipelas would ensue. But to offset this, the thin atmosphere seemed to carry healing to gunshot wounds, and therefore, to simply shoot your adversary through both lungs was a thing not likely to afford you any permanent satisfaction, for he would be nearly certain to be around looking for you within the month, and not with an opera glass, either.”
Readers’ Choice: Silverton, Colorado
Best Native American Museum
Field Museum of Natural History
You can easily spend a couple of days viewing the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, but to see everything at Chicago’s Field Museum, you’ll need a week. The museum’s exhibits on Native Americans run from 200 B.C. to modern times. When you finish with the Indians move on to the dinosaurs.
Big Nose Kate’s
Want a sip of your favorite libation? This saloon in historic Tombstone offers good liquor, good food and live entertainment, not to mention the ghost of the Swamper living in the mineshaft below the bar. Drink your whiskey and try to ignore the cowboys shooting it out on Allen Street in front of the bar. If you bring your horse, you can tie it to the outside hitching post, then sashay through the swinging doors like Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp or Johnny Ringo. Just remember to check your six-guns at the door.
Readers’ Choice (Tie): Long Branch, Dodge City, Kansas. And #10, Deadwood, South Dakota
Best Ghost Town
Now a California State Historic Park, Bodie is one of the best-preserved ghost towns in the West. Between 1877 and 1882, upwards of 10,000 people transformed this patch of California desert on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains into a bustling town. All hoped to strike it rich, whether in the gold mines or in the service and fleecing enterprises (in its heyday, Bodie supported about 65 saloons) that strived to relieve the miners of their money.
Readers’ Choice: Bannock, Montana
Best Historically Accurate Saloon
Crystal Palace Saloon
If you really want to taste the Old West, visit the Crystal Palace Saloon. It’s virtually unchanged since it opened in 1879—except now when you’ve had your fill of beer, you can use the “indoor plumbing.” In its day, this saloon was a sight to see, filled with the finest crystal stemware and china and serving meals fit for a gourmet. The Crystal Palace location was a regular haunt of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and many other notable figures. Stop by and enjoy a cold brew, good whiskey and tolerable water.
Readers’ Choice: Crystal Palace, Tombstone, Arizona
Cody Nite/Cody Stampede
Sure, the NFR is hot. So is Cheyenne Frontier Days, where you get to see the “best” competing for big money. But is this all rodeo has come to: big money? If what you’re looking for is a whole lot of cowboys, a whole lot of snot-blowin’ bulls and broncs doin’ an adrenaline dance, then Cody Nite is where you need to be. Every night, that’s right, every night June through August, they rodeo in Cody. Everyone who can rodeo rides here. There’s some prize money and even some trophy buckles to be won, but it’s the passion for rodeo that brings in the cowboys. So gather up your young ’uns and check out some good old-fashioned rodeo that’ll create memories to last a lifetime.
Readers’ Choice: Cheyenne Frontier Days, Cheyenne, Wyoming
Best Mountain Range
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Used as a backdrop for numerous Western movies (including Shane and The Big Sky), the spectacular, glacially carved Grand Teton and rest of the Teton Range—the youngest range in the Rocky Mountains—epitomize the American West. Standing 13,766 feet above sea level, the Grand is also a favorite mountaineering destination, whether for beginning climbers attempting the Exum Ridge or veterans tackling its north face.
Readers’ Choice: Rocky Mountains
Best Western Saloon To Get Smashed In
Norton’s Country Corner
This is no bar for a greenhorn. It’s a true Western bar full of working cowboys. Even the sheriff’s posse has been known to hang out here—off duty, of course. You’ll find lots of loud, live country-western music and come rodeo time, more cowboys covered with dust and mud than you could shake a stick at. Did we mention the ladies? Have a drink and meet your future ex-wife all in one trip. On occasion, a brawl or two has been known to break out, but it’s all in good fun. Just watch out for those sucker punches.
In importance to the creation of the United States as we know it today, no route matches the 2,170-mile Oregon Trail. Between 1843 and the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869, nearly 400,000 people used some portion of the Oregon Trail as it bore the largest human migration in the history of the world.
Readers’ Choice: Santa Fe Trail
Autry Museum of Western Heritage
Los Angeles, California
Singing cowboy Gene Autry made some big money off his media investments, and he sank a bundle ($35 million) into the museum that bears his name. The facilities’ three wings feature some of the best artifacts and paintings in the land. In addition, the museum’s special shows are always first-rate.
Readers’ Choice: National Cowboy Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Best Place to See A Charlie Russell Painting
Charlie Russell Museum
Great Falls, Montana
Great Falls let many of its favorite son’s paintings slip off to Texas and other points South. A number of these Russell originals landed in the wonderful Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, and the splendid Gilchriese in Guthrie, Oklahoma. But if you want to see and feel the essence of the legend himself, you have to visit the Charlie Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana. What it lacks in famous works by the renowned cowboy artist, it more than makes up for in authentic displays and the actual cabin where he painted so many of his masterpieces. The cabin is a shrine and a must-see by anyone who worships the Original Cowboy Artist.
Readers’ Choice: Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Best Bed & Breakfast
Casa de Patron
Lincoln, New Mexico
When it comes to pristine Old West towns, Lincoln, New Mexico stands tall. Once at the epicenter of the Lincoln County War and some of the fiercest fighting of the late 1870s, Lincoln is now a sleepy village. No gas stations or video stores blight the town’s lone street. Add the West’s most celebrated outlaw to this laid-back serenity and you have a mandatory destination. Yes, Billy the Kid escaped from the local jail (still standing) and was held prisoner in the home of Juan Patron. That home has been made into a wonderful bed & breakfast. Staying in the house where Billy slept is an amazing experience. Owners and hosts, Jerry and Cleis Jordan, are great fun and their breakfasts are wonderful.
Best Place to Pan Gold
The obvious choice is anywhere along the motherload in central California, but if you’d like to spend some quality time with your friends and family, you can’t beat the Lynx Creek Recreation Area. Just South of Lynx Lake in the cool elevations of central Arizona, Lynx Creek offers a quiet retreat for prospectors of all ages. Dredges, sluice boxes, dry washers and high bankers are not allowed—only pans. We’ve never panned here without finding color.
Readers’ Choice: Hills Grove, California
Best Old West Re-Enactment
The lads in Tombstone put on a credible Gunfight at The O.K. Corral but they don’t use horses. Legendary local and one of the original Arizona re-enactors, Ben Traywick (who almost always portrayed Wyatt Earp), explains: “We tried it once during a dress rehearsal, and the two horses ran right through the bleachers. That was the last time we did that.” Well, up in Northfield, Minnesota, the James-Younger Gang Re-enactors have been recreating the Northfield Bank Raid since 1948, using—count ’em—eight horses. And, two of the re-enactors must fall off their horses on hard asphalt. Sometimes they do it four times a day. Our hats are way off. Good job, Boys.
Best Lost Mine
The Lost Dutchman
Somewhere in Arizona
This mine has been lost and found more times than John Wayne’s fanned a six-gun. Yet treasure tales don’t come better than this legend about gold that’s still guarded by the majestic Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, Arizona. To these mysterious, inhospitable rocks, came conquistadors, Mexican gentry, fierce Apaches and prospectors, including a German emigrant named Jacob Waltz, for whom the mine is named. And they still come, lured by crafty clues, signs and formations said to point the way to treasure. Although the extrusive, igneous rock, from which most of the Superstition Range is composed, is not the best place to look for pay dirt, as long as gold fever burns in the mind of man, Waltz’s Lost Dutchman Mine will keep folks searching. Let’s hope it’s never found.
Readers’ Choice: The Lost Dutchman Mine
Best Cliff Dwelling
Mesa Verde National Park
Let’s face it, a dwelling that can be constructed without a trip to the local home improvement store deserves recognition. Cliff Palace, the gem of this national park’s prehistoric ruins, will humble anyone who’s ever tried to lay a brick. Archaeologists conclude the dwelling was constructed and inhabited by a few hundred Anasazi (Ancient Ones) during the 1200s and was abandoned by 1300. It’s possible other whites explored the ruins before Charlie Mason and his brother-in-law, Richard Wetherill, stumbled upon them in December 1888, but the Wetherill family brought the dwelling national attention and almost national ruin. The Wetherills and others collected and sold artifacts from the site before it became a national park in 1906.
Readers’ Choice: Mesa Verde
Best Placed to Get Hitched
Cave Creek, Arizona
Once the wedding vows are said, it’s time to party, and there’s no better place to party following a wedding than the Satisfied Frog. Crazy Ed, who owns the place, can even furnish a chapel. The cowboy way is to cut to the chase, and the best wedding chasers are at the Satisfied Frog.
Readers’ Choice: Reno, Nevada
Best Stage Ride
Once again, we have to agree with our readers. You might be asking, what makes for a great stage ride? Padded seats! Seriously, it’s pretty cool to ride in an authentic stagecoach pulled by a full team of horses through the streets of Tombstone and see places frequented by Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp. This is something the whole family can enjoy.
Readers’ Choice: Tombstone, Arizona
Best Dude Ranch
Big Bar Guest Ranch
Clinton, British Columbia
Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Caribou Mountains, the Big Bar Guest Ranch features cattle drives, snowshoeing and relaxed evenings in a hot tub, marvelling at the brilliance of the northern lights. The Big Bar is famous for its home-cooked, ranch-style meals. If you are on a romantic getaway, you can opt for either a hilltop cabin far from everyone else, or an authentic tipi.
Best Working Dude Ranch
Most Western dude ranches got their start in the 1930s or later, but the roots of the 63 Ranch go deeper, dating from 1863 (hence the name). Sandra and Bud Cahill run the spread, and their family has been there since 1929. The whole place reeks of a Spin & Marty fantasy with log outbuildings and snow-covered Rocky Mountain peaks for a backdrop. Throw in the aroma of bacon and eggs, pancakes and hot coffee plus a good horse, and you’ve got yourself a dude-dream come true.
Best Train Ride
Durango & Silverton
Narrow Gage Railroad
Imagine yourself amid beautiful scenery, breathing fresh mountain air, while being rocked toward nirvana. The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gage Railroad offers that experience with a three and one-half-hour trip from Durango to Silverton, Colorado. Need we say more?
Readers’ Choice: Verde Canyon Railroad, Clarkdale, Arizona
National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Once a year, Elko, Nevada, brings together the West’s best poets for a celebration of cowboy poetry. If you want to see the who’s who of Western poetry, this is the place to be.
Readers’ Choice: Festival of the West, Scottsdale, Arizona
Best Western Hotel
When it comes to a classic hotel in a dramatic setting, it’s hard to top the Copper Queen down Bisbee way, but on sheer Western pedigree, the Irma Hotel gets the nod. The brainchild of the West’s most famous showman, the Irma (named for Buffalo Bill’s daughter) is a classic Victorian beauty plopped down in the center of one of the West’s coziest towns, Cody (also named for Bill), Wyoming. We’ll let Cody (the scout) have the final say: the Irma is “just the sweetest hotel that ever was.”
Readers’ Choice: Copper Queen, Bisbee, Arizona
Best Western Spa
Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
This renowned inn and spa, just north of Sonoma, sits in the heart of California’s wine country. The inn offers casitas with fireplaces and terraces, and its spa is fed with natural, 135-degree, thermal mineral water, which comes from 1,100 feet beneath the inn. As for refreshments, the dining room boasts over 400 “exceptional” wines, and the nearby Big 3 Cafe has been a favorite among locals for over 50 years.
Readers’ Choice: Glenwood Springs Spa, Glenwood Springs, Colorado
Best Trading Post Replica
Like Fort Union, Bent’s Old Fort and Fort Nisqually, Fort Vancouver was an important fur-trading center. Originally built in 1824-25, the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post was relocated closer to the Columbia River in 1829. In the late 1960s, the National Park Service began erecting eight replica buildings on their 1829 locations. The five-plus-acre Fort Vancouver replica has been designated a National Historic Site.
Best Western Waterfall
Twin Falls, Idaho
Created 14,500 years ago during the Bonneville Flood—one of the three largest known floods in the history of the world—Shoshone Falls stands 212 feet tall, 52 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Since the late 19th century, Shoshone Falls has been a major tourist attraction, especially during the early summer when the Snake River flows full with mountain snowmelt.
Best Lewis and Clark Memorial
On December 8, 1805, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery began constructing their winter quarters on the Oregon coast. Dubbed Fort Clatsop, the post consisted of two rows of cabins enclosed by a 50-foot-square log stockade. Since the Oregon winter consisted of misty rain, pouring rain and more rain, no one on the expedition was sorry to leave the following spring. The Fort Clatsop replica and memorial was built in 1955 and is now operated by the National Park Service.
Best Indian Chief
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Cochise, Sitting Bull, Quanah Parker—heck, even Sonny Sixkiller and Chief Dan George—may have more name recognition, but we’re not sexist (OK, some of us are), and you can’t argue with her accomplishments. Born in 1945, she served as principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1985-95, becoming the first woman to hold that office. That means she was a real chief, unlike a lot of our legendary heroes who were given the title “chief” by foolish government officials. President Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. If these aren’t enough reasons, well, she has a heck of a name.
Readers’ Choice: Crazy Horse
Best Female Outlaw
Legend says she was a school teacher who got mixed up with a couple of charming outlaws going by the names Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. She may have helped them rob a bank in South America, and then she vanished. Her first name may be a Pinkerton typo (Ethel mistyped as Etta on a wanted dossier), but for what she lacked in outlaw accomplishments, she more than made up for in beauty. Etta Place was a looker. For once, Hollywood didn’t exaggerate when it cast Katherine Ross as the lovely Etta.
Readers’ Choice: Belle Starr
Best Male Outlaw
Billy the Kid was just that: a kid. Jesse and Frank James were too cold-blooded. Sam Bass was a hayseed. The Daltons were idiots. Black Bart was no Robert Frost. If anyone had a reason to turn to the owlhoot trail, it was Cole Younger. Plus, he had a healthy dose of humor, more than a touch of Southern pride, and he paid his debt to society. And his autobiography, while maybe not the whole truth, is certainly fun to read.
Readers’ Choice: Jesse James
Best Western Gambler
We have to side with the readers on this one, even if Doc’s not the kind of pal we’d bring home to meet Mama. For that matter, we probably wouldn’t feel comfy playing five-card stud with him either, even penny ante. Yet first and foremost, Doc Holliday believed in honor and friends. “That’s a hell of a thing for you to say to me, Wyatt!” tells it all. Victor Mature, Kirk Douglas, Jason Robards, Stacy Keach, Dennis Quaid and Val Kilmer knew a great role when they saw one.
Readers’ Choice: Doc Holliday
Best Horse Trainer
Pat Parelli Natural Horsemanship Training Programs
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
You can whisper in your horse’s ear, but will he listen? The horse-training team of Pat and Linda Parelli can teach you what to say in their “Success with Horses” seminars. Parelli students often become horse trainers themselves.
Readers’ Choice: Monty Roberts
Best Mountain Man
Jedediah Strong Smith
As a mountain man and trapping brigade partisan (leader), Jedediah Smith stood shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Jim Bridger, Kit Carson and Bill Sublette. But as an explorer of the American West, Smith had few rivals. When a Comanche war party killed him (he was 32 years old) in 1831 on the Santa Fe Trail, he had seen more of what would become the Western United States than any man alive.
Readers’ Choice: Joseph R. Walker
Best Trick Roper
If you look up trick roper in the dictionary you’ll find the definition. If you ask Western fans, they’ll say, “Will Rogers.” This loveable “Roping Fool” entertained millions with his wit and rope skill in the early 1900s while touring with Texas Jack’s Wild West Show. His act had such impact, you can still buy a Will Rogers roping set.
Readers’ Choice: Ed McGivin
Best Trick Shooter
In today’s PC world, many of us have never seen the artistry of a trick shooter. Thankfully there’s Bob Munden. A quick-draw expert and gunsmith, Bob performs all over the country and is in Guinness for his draw. He is also accurate, demonstrated by his ability to knock down steel targets with a .45-caliber SAA at 200 yards. If you think it’s easy, try it some time. Give Bob a look, but don’t blink or you’ll miss him.
Readers’ Choice: Annie Oakley
Best Single Action Army Reproduction
EMF Hartford Premier
EMF Co, Inc
Santa Ana, California
Pound for pound the most faithful reproduction of a Colt Single Action Army on the market today. Right out of the box, this gun exhibits style and function. Expertly tuned and assembled, the Hartford Premier is the best SAA reproduction for cowboy action shooting on the market today.
Readers’ Choice: Cimarron F.A. Company, Fredericksburg, Texas
Best Cartridge Conversion Revolver Reproduction
Cimarron Arms 1872 Open Top
Cimarron F.A. Company
The 1872 Open Top, chambered in .38-caliber special, is accurate and easy to handle, especially with a 7 1/2-inch barrel. This pistol looks and feels as if it just rode out of the 1800s.
Best Cap and Ball Revolver Reproduction
Cimarron Arms 1851 Navy .36-Caliber
Cimarron F.A. Company
Recently, True West staffer Cowboy Dan murdered Wild Bill Hickok (OK, he shot him on a film set for the History Channel). CD reports the Cimarron Arms 1851 Navy he used in the shooting was well balanced, easy to operate and had a nice finish.
Best Old West Rifle Reproduction
1860 Henry Rifle EMF Co, Inc
Santa Ana, California
This high quality reproduction of the rifle that played a major role in taming the West is as close as you can get to owning an original. When you lean into the rifle’s butt, sight down the barrel and squeeze the trigger, you’ll be pleased with the dead-on accuracy. The only limiting factor is the shooter.
Best Commemorative Rifle
“One of 100” Winchester Model 1894 .30-.30 American Historical Foundation
Offered in limited editions of 100 for each of the nation’s 50 states, this museum-quality rifle, etched and plated with 24-karat gold, is not only a perfect wall decoration for the home, but also a functional firearm. The combination of the Winchester name with the quality of the “One of 100” selection, ensures this rifle will be passed down from generation to generation.
Best Gunfighter Website
We have to go with the readers’ choice and say gunfighterzone.com is the best gunfighter website. It has links to information about gunfighting and quick-draw competitions, as well as Western movies, posters, books and apparel. If you are into gunfighters or just want a Clint Eastwood-type spaghetti Western costume, surf over to www.gunfighterzone.com.
Readers’ Choice: www.gunfighterzone.com
Best Old West Shoot-Out
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
There were other fights that had more casualties, but without a doubt, the gunfight near the O.K. Corral is the most celebrated face-down in the history of the West. This gunfight has it all: the big names (Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday), the big location (the O.K. Corral, even though it didn’t happen there) and the big town (Tombstone). What a 30-second marvel.
Best Western Action Figure
Six-Gun Legends: Billy the Kid Sideshow Toy
Westlake Village, California
The folks at Sideshow Toy are an eclectic bunch. They make a traditional Frankenstein action figure and a pretty hip Bride of Frankenstein, not to mention quirky figurines such as Spinal Tap (the band from Rob Reiner’s Rockumentary) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Still, it’s surprising to us that they created such a distinctive, historically accurate action figure of Billy the Kid. The anchor on the shirt is right; the pistol is a Thunderer and the rifle is a dead-on ’73. But the face nails the whole dang thing together: buck-toothed, yet handsome (not an easy feat, see this issue’s cover). Billy is a doll!
Best Desert Critter to Sink its Fangs Into You
We thought about listing the diamondback rattler or Bob Boze Bell as the winner, but if you’ve ever seen Treasure of the Sierra Madre, then you remember the scene with Bogie, Walter Huston and Tim Holt and know there’s nothing more intimidating than this Western lizard. All right, so the Gila monster doesn’t have fangs. Neither does a bull snake, but it’ll bite you or your dog as fast as a rattler.
Readers’ Choice: Diamondback
Best Western Mythical Creature
You’ll find a postcard featuring this hybrid—likely the result of nuclear testing in Nevada during the 1950s—at every truck stop, souvenir stand and tourist shop west of Arkansas. We’ve also seen a few mounted jackalope heads for sale. For those of you who have never been west of the Hudson River, a jackalope is part jackrabbit, part antelope. Picture Bugs Bunny with antlers. FYI: It tastes like chicken.
Readers’ Choice: Big Foot
Best Wild West Show
The Great American Wild West Show
Buffalo Bill set the standard in the 1880s: big tents, big stars and big action. After a glut of rival shows in the early 1900s, the Wild West Show went on the skids and was kaput by the ’40s. Various people have tried to revive it (Western movie star Tim McCoy attempted marrying the Wild West show with the drive-in theatre in the 1950s, but it didn’t pan out). Monty Montana gave it his best shot. But then in the ’90s along came Don Endsley and his Great American Wild West Show. Combining Western talent from throughout the country, Don has managed to bring professionalism and energy back into the genre. The show includes 100 animals and performers, and features J.W. Stoker (he did the roping in Bronco Billy), the legendary and last of the great trick roping cowboys.
Big Sky Brewing Company
These brews from the Big Sky country have big time flavor. Nestled at the convergence of five mountain ranges, this hometown brewery is a favorite with folks north of the Grand Tetons. Not only does Big Sky Brewing have the best-selling draft beer in Montana, but its Scape Goat brew also won a Gold Medal for the 1997 North American Brewers Association’s “best English-style pale ale brewed west of the Mississippi.” Big Sky’s selection also includes Slow Elk, Montana Mauler and Powder Hound. Our favorite is the Moose Drool brown ale—it’s the tastiest spit you’ll ever swallow!
Readers’ Choice: Flying Dog Brewery, Denver, Colorado
Best Exotic Beer
Cave Creek Chili Beer
Cave Creek, Arizona
Crazy Ed is a legend, having created some of the most outrageous saloons in Cave Creek, Arizona: The Horny Toad, The Goatsucker Saloon and his signature establishment, Crazy Ed’s Satisfied Frog (which allegedly was named as a reaction to his old place, The Horny Toad). Ed lives life large, and several years ago he started brewing beer. Some months later, he gave birth to his world famous Chili Beer, which has a real serrano chili in each and every bottle. And it isn’t just in the West where this beer sells. The Chinese buy Ed’s beer by the truckload.
Best western Grub
Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat . . . you know the rest, Tooter. The mighty pinto bean was a staple across the Old West, both north and south of the border. Today, it still reigns supreme, whether in its prime state, in variations such as “cowboy beans” which most steak houses serve, or as the ubiquitous refried bean which shows up in every Mexican plate combination from Long Island to Catalina. Long live the mighty pinto bean. It’s a gas.
Readers’ Choice: Beans
Best Saddle Maker
Sawtooth Saddle Company
Craftsmanship, beauty, dura-bility and comfort are the criteria for a great saddle. Sawtooth Saddle Company delivers all this and more. Attention is given to every detail, from the handmade saddletree to the finest leather, which is hand-tooled. The folks at Sawtooth are working cowboys who build each saddle to be a piece of art and a tool for the most demanding cowboy. Whether you rope, cut cattle or ride miles of fence, they’re so comfortable that if you can sleep sittin’ up, you can snore on the trail.
Readers’ Choice: National Saddlery, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Best Bootmaker - Comfort
Union City, California
Every pair of boots these guys make is as comfortable as your bunny slippers. Apparently they use some kind of mystery gel insole and a carbon fiber support shank. Ariat also uses carbon soles on a number of their boots . . . seems like a lot of carbon, but it keeps you from bruising your feet, trying to “break in” a new pair of boots. And for anyone wanting to make a fashion statement, they have a gazillion styles.
Any hatmaker who’s been picked to furnish hats for as many Western movies during the past 10 years as Tom Hirt gets our vote. Tom’s hats have been used in Tombstone, Conagher, The Quick and the Dead and Gunfighter’s Moon.
Readers’ Choice: Stetson, Dallas, Texas
Best Gunleather Artisan
Jake Johnson a.k.a. Shakey Jake
An accomplished mounted shooter and leather craftsman, Jake has worked on films such as Tombstone and Wild Bill, and had his rigs featured in The Quick and the Dead. Few crafters come close to the authenticity or feel of Jake’s hand-sewn pieces of art. Using linen thread and old-fashioned needlework, he creates historical gems you’ll be proud to display.
Readers’ Choice: John Bianchi’s Frontier Gunleather, Rancho Mirage, California
Best Silversmith (tie)
Columbus, Montana And
Santa Fe, New Mexico
One of the most common lies you’ll hear a cowboy tell is, “I won this buckle.” Well, any cowboy, cowgirl or city slicker would be proud to wear a buckle or accessory from either of our “Best Of” silversmiths. While Montana Silversmiths is the largest in the industry—they’ve been around for 30 years now—they still produce one of the finest handmade buckles you’ll ever see. Then there’s the little guy, and we mean this in the best possible way. Every buckle Clint Mortenson turns out is handcrafted with each letter hand-cut—not stamped. Heck, even Prince Charles has a Clint Mortenson buckle. These incredible silversmiths make some of the most beautiful trophy buckles you’ll ever see.
Readers’ Choice: Montana Silversmiths
Best Knife Maker
Daniel Winkler A.K.A. Bandanna Dan
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Daniel Winkler has been crafting functional works of art since 1976. His cutlery is forged from carbon and pattern-welded steel, which holds an edge like no other. Whether it’s a hunting knife or a stunning showpiece for your gun rig, Daniel will provide you with an award-winning product, handcrafted to last a lifetime.
Best Bootmaker Working Cowboy
Olathe Boot Company
Although there are many outstanding bootmakers, we had to narrow it down to one. Olathe makes a great working cowboy’s boot, adding little things such as a heel spur-lip big enough to be of use and extra leather over the top of the foot to keep your spur straps from wearing through. The boots’ thick leather practically begs you to give them abuse. Craftsmanship and style come together in this boot for the working cowboy.
Best Stagecoach Builder
Hansen Wheel And Wagon Shop
Lechter, South Dakota
Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop is a family-owned manufacturer specializing in construction and restoration of horse-drawn vehicles and wheels. Its location in the Dakota grasslands provides inspiration for the company’s handcrafted works of art. For over 20 years, Hansen craftsmen have built the most historically accurate horse-drawn vehicles and accessories this side of the 1800s.
Readers’ Choice: Hansen Wheel And Wagon Shop
Best Historical Hats
D Bar J Hat Company
Las Vegas, Nevada
As readers of this magazine know, there’s a world of difference between cowboy hats and authentic Old West headgear. Cowboy styles have wandered a good deal in the past 150 years, and many classic styles have disappeared (the Sugarloaf Sombrero and Texas Torpedo come to mind). Both styles are custom-made by D Bar J, and for that fact alone, we give them the tip of our collective hats.
Best Panama Hats And Milliner Renovator
Grant Sergot of Optimo Hatworks in Bisbee, Arizona, has one of the best little ol’ hat shops in the West. Grant also outfitted our O.K. Corral photo-shoot (see pages 80-83), but that didn’t influence our decision to include Optimo Hatworks in “Best of the West.” Optimo makes a superior Panama hat and does excellent hat renovations. Grant’s high-end hats sell for $20,000 and take 12 months to weave. In addition, cowboys, businessmen and customers from Cairo (no joke) come to Optimo Hatworks to re-fashion their favorite hats. “Word of mouth,” Grant tells us, “has been incredible.” You can’t beat that.
If you’re yearning for old cowboy songs, take a listen to Don Edwards. Don’s been writing and singing cowboy songs for over 25 years. We have yet to find a singer who’s more dedicated to preserving old songs. For traditional Western music, Don Edwards is the best.
Readers’ Choice: Don Edwards
Best Western Designer Contemporary
Sherry Holt-Reese Company Desert Diva
Darci Point, California
Manuel is the obvious choice, but we’re going with Sherry Holt-Reese. Sherry gives her Western clothing a contemporary flair. Wear one of her dazzling outfits and heads will turn.
Best Western Designer Historic
John Corn left the South in 1973 and headed for the Rockies. He worked for several tanneries, then graduated to outfitting Western movies (Centennial, The Return to Lonesome Dove, Riders of the Purple Sage). With the rise of single action shooting, John returned to Georgia and started making dusters. “We met Slim Pickins, and we made one for him,” John tells us. “On all our clothing, we try real hard to make it the best. I will not cut a corner to save a nickel. If it’s not going to be first rate I don’t want to do it. Our pants have a better fit and we make more styles than anyone else. Nothing is a knockoff.” When asked why a historic designer with the name Tombstone Outfitters would be in Georgia, John quipped, “There wouldn’t be a Tombstone at all if it weren’t for a Georgia Boy.” Doc Holliday would be proud.
Sorrell Custom Boots
You know Lisa Sorrell makes good boots when she’s invited to the Western Design Conference in Cody, Wyoming. She’s also featured in The Art of the Boot book. The craftsmanship and suburb styling of Lisa’s boots make wearing them a dream.
“Give me life! Give me freedom! Give me my Liberty Boots!” That’s allegedly what Madonna said to Tony Benattar, owner of the Liberty Boot Company. The sleek black cowboy boots that Liberty made for Madonna are now the famous “Twiggy” model. During a recent True West photo-shoot, Jennifer Tilly so liked the pair we had asked her to wear, she bought them on the spot.
What else can be said about this classy octogenarian? A rodeo cowboy in the 1930s and ’40s, this 1992 National Cowboy Hall of Fame inductee stopped rodeoing to make boots, first in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and since 1955 in Nogales, Arizona. Customers Paul Newman, Sam Elliott, John Wayne, Dwight Yoakum, Johnny Cash and Gene Autry can’t be wrong.
Best Elvis Western Movie
Love Me Tender
If you give a guy a gun, hat and horse and call it a Western, then Elvis made four. In Charro! he’s Jess Wade. Neat name, no more. Stay Away, Joe relies on pucker-play more than gunplay, and as a Kiowa half-breed in Flaming Star, “E” and his brother suffer split loyalties when they’re orphaned. Brother trouble also plays a big part in Love Me Tender. Set in the South at the close of the Civil War, the movie pits Clint Reno (Elvis) against brother Vance. Plenty of shootin’, shoutin’, shaken’ and singin’, with Elvis at his rugged, rural best.
Reader’s Choice: Charro!
Best Western Movie Set
Cañon City, Colorado
Sure, Old Tucson and Alamo Village have their appeal, and no one disputes the grandeur of Monument Valley or J.W. Eaves’ Movie Ranches, but Buckskin Joe wins because of two important facts: 1. The town has an actual history—Buckskin Joe was founded about 90 miles northwest of the movie-set site in 1859—and features several historical buildings. 2. It was party to two Academy Award-winning performances: Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou and John Wayne in True Grit—and they had to outshine Stubby Kaye and Glen Campbell, respectively.
Readers’ Choice: Old Tucson, Tucson, Arizona
Best Western Villain
Although he didn’t play bad often, Henry Fonda does bad good. When he showed up on the set of Once Upon a Time in the West with his scruffy beard and wicked hairdo, he looked mean. But director Siergio Leone chose Fonda because of his good looks, so off went the beard and scruff. His actions speak for themselves. His character, Frak, is ruthless and cunning, no makeup required.
Readers’ Choice: Jack Palance
Best Western Mini-Series
Every red-blooded American has to love this one. Not only are we given a real glimpse of the trials and tribulations of a grueling Old West cattle drive, but we also get into the lives of the characters. Gus and Cap’n Call make us laugh and cry as they live a life some of us have dreamt about since we were kids. This Western makes us all want to kick a pig, rustle cattle and cut the cards for a poke. Uva Uvam Vivendo Varia fit!
Readers’ Choice: Lonesome Dove
Best Western Actress
Everyone likes to see the fiery redhead Maureen O’Hara leaning against the Duke, or Angelica Huston longing for Gus or Wild Bill. Personally we prefer seeing Jean Arthur tough and gritty in Arizona and Shane. She isn’t overly good looking and at times is even homely. But hot damn, it works.
Readers’ Choice: Barbara Stanwyck
Best Western Actor
This is a risky category at best. When it comes to keeping the West alive, two names stand above the rest. Buck Taylor and Tom Selleck. Each has made his contribution to the genre in the last decade, and both are active in the West through films and festivals. Buck, however, gets our vote because of his expertise on the back of a horse.
Readers’ Choice: John Wayne
Best Western Movie Website
South of Heaven West of Hell may have done poorly at the box office, but the publicity folks have a hit with their web site. The menus are wonderfully animated, and the content gives the film depth. If you haven’t seen the movie, visit www.southofheavenwestofhell.com
Readers’ Choice: vkn.com/movies/tombstone
Best Western Movie
This film set the standard for all Western movies to follow. Its impact on the Western genre is still felt today, nine years after it was made. Tombstone raised the bar in clothing, guns, vocabulary and even set design. Movie people are now interested in getting it right. Buck Taylor, who played Creek Johnson in the film, said, “Tombstone keeps me in business,” referring to the paintings he has produced relating to the film. And Sam Elliott complimented the film by saying, “If you make it right for the people that know, it will be that much better for everyone else.”
Readers’ Choice: Tombstone
Best Western Film Festival
Tombstone Film Festival
With the proliferation of film festivals throughout the U.S., you’d think someone would feature Westerns. Well, someone has. The Tombstone Film Festival had its second run this past Fourth of July weekend, and James Clark of Tombstone made it happen. James and his volunteers brought in stars such as Bruce Boxleitner, Robert Horton, Dale Robertson and Harry Carey, Jr. Western films were shown in historic Schieffelin Hall. Our hats are off to James and his efforts. Long may this festival run.
Best Western Bookstore
T.A. Swinford Bookseller
In business for 23 years, Tom started his book business in Paris, Illinois. He specializes in out-of-print books on the American West. His quarterly catalogue has hard-to-find classics and masterpieces. The current one features frontier military books. Tom is a Custer aficionado, and his store is adorned with Custer paintings, prints and paraphernalia. It’s the only store in the world where you can find over 1,000 books referenced in Ramon Adam’s bibliography, Six Guns and Saddle Leather.
Readers’ Choice: Guidon Scottsdale, Arizona
Best Louis L’amour Novel
Of all Louis L’Amour’s characters, none are more endearing than the Sacketts. The Daybreakers, written in 1959, was L’Amour’s first novel about this resolute family and was one of his favorites. In recounting the trials of brothers Orrin and Tyrell Sackett in their migration from Tennessee to New Mexico, L’Amour ably set the stage for all the Sackett novels that followed. All together, he wrote 17 novels and two short stories about the Sackett clan.
Readers’ Choice: Conagher
Best Native american Author
Spokane/Couer d’Alene Indian Sherman Alexie paints a vivid picture of modern-day Amerindian life. He writes powerfully about the harsh truth of the Indian Reservation legacy, as his finely drawn characters confront poverty, racism and family obligations. Alexie’s characters struggle between the traditions of their past and the modern world, the distance between Indian and white, and the seductions of alcohol and laughter. The film Smoke Signals is based on his novel, Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Sherman Alexie is one of the most interesting contemporary voices around, Indian or not.
Readers’ Choice: N. Scott Momady
Best Cowboy Poet
We may not know the difference between iambic pentameter and free verse, but we know what sounds good. After discovering Waddie Mitchell on an album with Don Edwards, we were hooked. His melodic voice and honesty bring forth the values of real cowhands. His messages are as true today as they would have been 100 years ago.
Readers’ Choice: Terry “Ike” Clanton
Next year True West will publish the Second Annual Best of the West as a special, stand-alone issue. Look for it in October 2003.