Best of the West

True West's Best of the West 2012 Winners


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Here are the winners of our "2012 Best of the West." Sit back and see if your pick made the list.



Jay Dusard
Jay Dusard of Douglas, Arizona, is no stranger to the readers of True West as he has written about, and we have published, his fine photos on master horsemen like Monk Maxwell. His emotive images capture the power and grandeur of the West as few have before or since. Dusard was chosen for the new Phoenix Art Museum’s West Select, which premiered this past October. Jay also plays a mean jazz cornet, but that’s another topic.

Reader’s Choice: David R. Stoecklein • Ketchum, ID •



Verde Canyon Railroad
This 20-mile ride is not only majestic, with its spectacular earthy canyons, Indian ruins and Bald Eagle sightings on the river side, it is also extremely viewer friendly, with its open gondola cars. Plus, you get to see remnants of Perkinsville, featured in How the West Was Won (which you can now watch in its remastered Blu-ray glory). Our residential train expert, Jim Clark, cites the Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale, Arizona, as a “well run railroad” with “well maintained rolling stock and streamliner locomotives.”

READER’S CHOICE: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad • Durango, CO •



Josh Hoy of Flying W Ranch
To carry on the traditions of his grandfather Kenneth Hoy as a Flint Hills rancher, Josh Hoy has diversified the family ranching operation at the Flying W Ranch near Cedar Point, Kansas. With wife Gwen, Josh is teaching daughter Josie the skills necessary to running cattle on the prairies of Kansas (yes, this youngster is up at 3 a.m. to help her parents herd cattle). The family operates an agri-tourism business where they give visitors an opportunity to gather cattle from pastures, brand calves in the corral, spend time in the modern bunkhouse or enjoy a gourmet meal prepared by Josh, who attended the Culinary Institute of America.

READER’S CHOICE: Jayce Doan of Rolling Plains Adventures Ranch • McKenzie, ND •



Klondike Ranch in Buffalo, WY
Five miles from the sites of the 1892 Johnson County Cattle War and battle at the TA Ranch is Klondike Ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming. Established in 1886, the working cattle ranch in the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains celebrated its 125th anniversary last year. Its guests herd Black Baldies from pasture to ranch, ride horseback along a stagecoach trail and attend local rodeos. This authentic ranch inspires folks to experience more of the true West. After staying there this past August, 60ish New York suburbanite Mary Ann Whitehouse told her local newspaper, Wellsville Daily Reporter, “Now we’re thinking of doing a true cattle drive.” Thank you Tass family, for keeping the camaraderie and history alive at the Klondike.

READER’S CHOICE: Bar W Guest Ranch • Whitefish, MT •



Baxter Black
The cowboy poet and NPR humorist from Benson, Arizona, took a different approach to his poetry this past year; he released his Lessons from a Desperado Poet to share his advice on growing a successful publishing following. The book’s subtitle revealed some lessons learned while he worked as the vet for a “hardheaded Basque named John Basabe.” These were: how to find your way when you don’t have a map (always valuable), how to win the game when you don’t know the rules (make them up?) and when someone says it can’t be done, what they really mean is they can’t do it (very true). Not only is this a fun read, but you also learn a lot about the cowboy poet that brings insight to the poems we all love and enjoy. You’ll find lots of laughs here too; who else but Baxter Black could conquer today’s technology without owning a cell phone?

READER’S CHOICE: Baxter Black • Benson, AZ •



Michael Wallis
This three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee from Tulsa, Oklahoma, hit the road in 2011 in a big way. He collaborated with his wife, Suzanne, and our publisher emeritus, Robert G. McCubbin, on a photo-terrific, day-by-day pioneer chronicle (The Wild West: 365 Days); he released an impressive American hero biography (David Crockett: The Lion of the West) that got him an appearance with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show; and he ended the year with a follow-up to his Route 66 travelogue, The Lincoln Highway, taking folks from Times Square to Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe he covered so much ground because he actually is a 1949 Mercury Club Coupe; okay, not possible, but we bet the kiddies would like to believe the Cars sheriff of Radiator Springs is real...and he is, but with even more prestige: he’s the nonfiction king of the year!

READER’S CHOICE: Michael Wallis • Tulsa, OK •



Richard S. Wheeler
This Livingston, Montana, novelist won his sixth Spur Award in 2010 making him the most recognized living Western writer and second only to the late (and great) Elmer Kelton. But Wheeler is not content to sit on his laurels, which also include a Wister Award from Western Writers of America for Lifetime Achievement. In 2011 he turned out two fine new novels: The First Dance, based on the settlement of Livingston, MT, by the Metis people, and The Richest Hill on Earth, set in the mining community of Butte, MT, proving that there are many interesting stories yet to be told about the American West, and they don’t all involve cowboys or outlaws.

READER’S CHOICE: Johnny D. Boggs • Santa Fe, NM •



Empire of the Summer Moon by Scribner
Seems like everywhere we went this past year, folks stopped us to gush about Empire of the Summer Moon. Author S.C. Gwynne had told such a masterful tale that when the paperback release came out, the book made its way into beach bags all over the nation. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, Empire of the Summer Moon offers a gripping narrative of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, his white mother Cynthia Ann and Texas Indian fighter Ranald Mackenzie. Gwynne thinks he first heard about Comanches from watching a John Wayne movie, but he never really knew who they were. We’re glad he took the time to find out.

READER’S CHOICE: The Last Gunfight by Jeff Guinn, published by Simon & Schuster •



BJ’s Tombstone History Discussion Forum
For nearly 13 years, BJ’s Tombstone History Discussion Forum has been a “must visit” site for folks interested in the “Town Too Tough to Die.” Most of the true Tombstone experts (including Jeff Morey, Casey Tefertiller and even Glenn Boyer) have presented their thoughts, latest research and theories. The information is fascinating, the postings are often controversial and the debates are thought provoking. Even newcomers to the field can find much of interest at BJ’s.

READER’S CHOICE: BBB’s blog by Bob Boze Bell • Cave Creek, AZ •



Gary Ernest Smith
His rural field and barn paintings hang in many museums, but it is Gary Ernest Smith’s work with the legends of the West that wins him this year’s nod as Best Fine Art Painter. Gary is a big fan of the Old West, and his images of Billy the Kid are some of the best in the field. Painting in the clean style of Maynard Dixon, Smith reveals a sharp eye and desert palette that capture the Old West brilliantly. Although his studio is nestled in the mountains of the Bull River country in Highland, Utah, Gary is fearless and often paints en plein air to sharpen his skills.

READER’S CHOICE: Bill Owen • Kirkland, AZ •



Thom Ross
Whether he’s painting cutout Indians on plywood to place on a San Francisco beach, or paintings of the O.K. Corral from every angle in pop art colors with tiny head caricatures of the principals, Thom Ross of Seattle, Washington, makes sure the important historic details are correct. For example, when he paints the cowboys waiting for the Earps to show, only two, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, have on gunbelts (which matches the Spicer hearing accounts). And Tom McLaury has his shirt tails out, also from the hearing. Granted, the boys appear to be being wearing high heels, as in female evening dress, but never mind, Ross rocks!

READER’S CHOICE: Buck Taylor • Marrero, LA •



Gib Singleton
When your work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, you’re famous. But when it’s also next to the Shroud of Turin and carried by the Pope, you’d make Charlie Russell and Donatello envious. Gib Singleton of Santa Fe, New Mexico, moves from religious and Western topics with ease, producing edgy work that will move you. In 2011, his Pony Express touched fans and collectors even before it was finished. “I can put something into a piece,” Singleton says. “It doesn’t necessarily have all ten fingers or both legs, but it can say everything.”

READER’S CHOICE: John Coleman of Coleman Studios • Prescott, AZ •



Due West Gallery
Men and women in hats, chaps and boots crowding to get inside a gallery in a city known for Georgia O’Keeffe and a world-renown opera? Give Thom Ross credit for turning Santa Fe, New Mexico’s art scene on its ear. Due West isn’t just showing contemporary takes on Western history; it is teaching history with in-gallery symposiums. Yes, Ross does carry Bob Boze Bell (hey, we like Buckeye Blake better), but we’d honor Due West anyway because of Ross’s vision, creativity and the carnage he’s likely to cause in City Different.

READER’S CHOICE: Hal Empie Studio-Gallery • Tubac, AZ •



Brian Lebel’s Old West Show & Auction
When the only known photo of Billy the Kid went up on the auction block this past June, we bet it would clear at least half a million dollars. Our June cover said as much. Yet we were practically blown out of our seats at the end of those two-and-a-half minutes when the hammer fell in Denver, Colorado, on Bill Koch’s $2 million bid. What we weren’t surprised about was that it happened at Brian Lebel’s auction. Lebel is serious about authenticating the artifacts that hit his auction block, which is why both sellers and collectors trust him. Only the best Western collectibles are found here.

READER’S CHOICE: High Noon Western Americana • Mesa, AZ •



Concordia Cemetery
Surrounded on two sides by the central El Paso highway known as the “Spaghetti Bowl” and with a backdrop of the Franklin Mountains, Concordia Cemetery is still the cemetery to beat. Easily the most famous person buried here is gunfighter John Wesley Hardin; he’s joined by John Selman, the man who killed Hardin in 1895, and Jeff Melton, who owned the Acme Saloon where Hardin was shot. Add to that the graves of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Chinese rail laborers and numerous other pioneers, and you’ve got the perfect place to pay your respect to influencers of Old West history. Local re-enactors bring these folks to life in popular walking tours. Everyone pulls together here to allow us all to experience this incredible historic cemetery.

READER’S CHOICE: Tombstone Boot Hill • Tombstone, AZ



General Palmer
First, the bona fides: the General Palmer was built in Durango, Colorado, in 1898 and was known throughout the West for its Victorian elegance. Named in honor of the builder of the Durango-Silverton Railroad, it doesn’t hurt that the trains leave right beyond the entrance, allowing you to sit on the balcony of the General Palmer and wave to departing passengers, as surely as General Palmer himself must have waved from this exact spot. If you need any more bona fides, the hotel has been awarded a Four Diamond Rating from the American Automobile Association for 33 consecutive years. This is the real deal, with heritage, luxury and consistency.

READER’S CHOICE: St. James Hotel • Cimarron, NM •



Ellis Store
Lincoln, New Mexico, is Billy the Kid’s fave town, and it looks almost exactly how it did 135 years ago. That is remarkable. But what’s even more remarkable is that you can stay in one of his haunts, the Ellis Store, a rambling, adobe ranch house on the edge of town where the Kid and other Regulators stayed during the infamous Lincoln County War. The grounds are beautiful, with a grassy front lawn and sprawling, old trees that tower over the property. The frosting on the cake is that the owners serve some of the best gourmet food you will ever eat anywhere. Good history, relaxing luxury and exquisite food, morning, noon and night.

READER’S CHOICE: Nagle Warren Mansion B&B • Cheyenne, WY •



Defeat of Jesse James Days
We’re keeping our eyes out for another mounted re-enactment that’s as exciting as this one, but we haven’t seen it yet. These volunteers fall off their horses when “shot;” they don’t just run around in circles and shoot blanks at each other. The story is good too, as the armed townspeople on the ground get the better of the James-Younger Gang, whose members were trying to rob two Northfield, Minnesota, banks that autumn day in 1876. The costumes are authentic. The story is authentic. The show is authentic...and fantastic. Don’t miss it.

READER’S CHOICE: Real Bird’s Little BIghorn Re-enactment • Near Crow Agency, MT •



San Antonio Living History Association
For the Alamo’s 175th anniversary, re-enactors from Texas’s San Antonio Living History Association put on a weekend to remember in March, as they dramatized the final two days of the battle that led to Santa Anna’s Army defeating the Alamo’s defenders. Throughout the year, the re-enactors also engaged the public at Alamo Plaza by hosting free demonstrations sharing the lifestyle of early San Antonio. These custodians of the Alamo paid justice to the men they portrayed.

READER’S CHOICE: Nevada Gunfighters • Carson City, NV •



Lone Pine Film Festival
Not even Monument Valley means more than the surreal Lone Pine smooth boulders, with their craggy deserts, home of Mount Whitney and Alabama Hills. Comanche Station and Tremors, Jim Rockford, Randolph Scott, True Grit (Wayne) and Joe Kidd; the legacy honors 22 years of the Lone Pine Film Festival, with its unique Star Panel discussions and extensive screenings of films, Westerns B and A and somewhere in between, including the Star Parade, a rodeo and an arts and crafts fair. However the stars, the characters and the wonderful events are actually greater than the sum of the total, which is exactly why it is such a fantastic festival.



Great American Wild West Show
Touring since 1996, under the banner of the Great American Wild West Show in Branson, Missouri, Don Endsley and his partner and wife Sharon have worked many long days and months to perfect a 1 3/4-hour show that unites the best trick riders, stunt teams, stagecoaches and Wild West splendor with special effects and state-of-the-art theatrical equipment. We salute Don and Sharon for having the guts and the stamina to take a show of this size on the road, and to do it consistently, year after year.



Steampunk Expo at Old Cowtown
All of us care about the authenticity of our Old West gear, but sometimes we just want to have fun with it. Steampunk expositions allow you to do just that; you can mix and match your favorite pieces without worrying too much about whether or not they fit together in a specific time and locale. The twist is that you’ll want to throw in modern-day gadgets, say your cellphone, and give them a Victorian aesthetic. The best one we’ve seen devoted to the Wild West form of Steampunk is the expo at Old Cowtown in Wichita, Kansas. Normally such expos are held in some run-of-the-mill convention hall. But folks can really get into the spirit walking around Old Cowtown’s drovers camp, traders area and 1870s residential street.



Fort Bridger
The re-created Jim Bridger trading post at Fort Bridger in Fort Bridger, Wyoming, sells goods to visitors and is but one of the reasons to visit this fort, which has recently upgraded exhibits to include a children’s play area, emigrant camp setting and military display. These exhibits help visitors understand the significance of this post that served overland emigrant travelers, Mormons and the frontier military. Today, the fort is the site of the largest mountain man rendezvous in the Intermountain West, held annually during the Labor Day weekend.

READER’S CHOICE: Fort Concho • San Angelo, TX •



Scully started out in 1906, Napa, California, making leather helmets and bomber jackets that warmed American aviators in both World Wars. In 1993, Scully acquired Wah-Maker, a line of accurately styled, Victorian-era clothing for men and women that was popular not only with re-enactors, but also with Western lifestyle enthusiasts from all walks of life. With WahMaker and its lower-priced sibling, RangeWear, the family-owned business continues to produce authentic Old West apparel and accessories. The company also makes clothes that resonate from the early days of Western styling and cowboy movies, as well as contemporary Western and leather apparel, to appeal to every taste in contemporary and retro Western design.

READER’S CHOICE: Wild West Mercantile Brand • Mesa, AZ •



“Thank you so much for the outstanding workmanship on my calico ball gown I wore this weekend,” wrote Kelly, a fan of Recollections in Hawks, Michigan. “I felt like I did on my wedding day, and for that I can’t thank you enough!” Tammy B. was looking forward to showing off her twill skirt with petticoat at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. Wendy B. gushed about the red “Soiled Doves” dress she bought for her Wild West Ghost Town costume party. With more than 600 styles ranging from the Civil War era to the Roaring ‘20s, Recollections is bound to have something grand that will make you, or the lady in your life, feel special too.

READER’S CHOICE: Wild West Mercantile Brand • Mesa, AZ •



Miller Ranch
Phillip Miller, founder of Denver-based retailer Miller Stockman (nee Stockman Farmer Supply Co., 1918), began making Miller Western apparel in the 1930s. The company was renamed Rocky Mountain Clothing Co. in 1992 to capitalize on its wildly popular Rocky Mountain brand of jeans. To commemorate the company’s heritage as a pioneer in Western apparel, Rocky Mountain Clothing Co. launched the Miller Ranch Collection in 2009. From its impeccably tailored twill and wool shirts to the stylishly efficient ranch and riding jackets, Miller Ranch sets the gold standard for classic Western styling and high quality.

READER’S CHOICE: Miller Ranch by Rocky Mountain Clothing Co. • Denver, CO •



Patricia Wolf
With a love of history and an artist’s eye for fashion, Patricia Wolf has been a trendsetter in women’s Western fashion since 1976. Her leather jackets and skirts are often described as “wearable art”—customers have been known to display them on walls. Her garments frequently tell a story with their hand-painted designs, which are usually inspired by art drawn on Indian winter count hides or in Indian ledger books. When ponchos became the big garment to wear this past fall, she already had crowd pleasers in her serape-patterned vests, ponchos and jackets. And, by the way, all her products are made in little ol’ Smithville, Texas.

READER’S CHOICE: Double D Ranch Wear • Yoakum, TX •



Established in San Antonio, Texas, in 1883, Lucchese built a reputation for comfort, quality and elegance that is unparalleled in Western boots. From Sam Lucchese Jr.’s innovative fit to the clean, classic styling preferred by “gentleman ranchers” to recent forays into edgier, more contemporary footwear and accessories for women, this venerable bootmaker now based in El Paso remains the Cadillac of cowboy boots.

READER’S CHOICE: Ariat International • Union City, CA •



Little’s Boot Shop
It’s no secret this is a tough time to be in business. Imagine, if you will, a small shoe repair shop founded in 1915 by Lucien Little in San Antonio, Texas. Through pluck and luck, the family business survived the Great Depression and, by the 1940s, Lucien’s son, Ben, began making boots for the local ranchers and cowboys. Ben built up a loyal following and passed the business and love of bootmaking on to his sons, John and Dave. After Dave’s daughter Sharon, who grew up working in the shop, graduated from the University of Texas with a Business degree, she brought her knowledge to the boot shop. Now this is a family business with tradition, perseverance and style. We salute you!

READER’S CHOICE: Paul Bond Boot Co. • Nogales, AZ •



Beaver Brand
Beaver Brand makes the very best quality hats with style (the company’s 1860 Old West Collection is superb, with prices running from $145 to the $650 range). Unlike many of the newer hat companies, Beaver Brand does not use the X rating to excess, explaining, “Since there is not an industry standard for quality ratings, each hat company can rate their products as they see fit. This is why you will find 100X, 1,000X or more from other hat manufacturers.” Hats off to a great company with solid credentials and a storied history.

READER’S CHOICE: Stetson • Garland, TX •



Baldwin’s Custom Hats
Gene Baldwin makes hats the old fashioned way in his shop at Sisters, Oregon, but he plays with the big boys. He just won a Best Hat national award for his latest design, beating out many big hat companies at Art of the Cowboy Makers in Loveland, Colorado. Gene’s theme is “Gotcha Covered,” and he means it, making each hat with machines he has collected from the 1880s. Baldwin also specializes in custom hat bands with your choice of Indian bead work, porcupine quills, horsehair or, well, you name it; if it fits on the crown of your new hat, Gene’s gotcha covered!

READER’S CHOICE: Rand’s Custom Hats • Billings, MT •



Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium
The Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium in Ruidoso, New Mexico, has been doing its thing for 22 years straight, and the backbone of the popular Western festival (23,000 paying customers attended last year’s three-day celebration) is the World Championship Chuckwagon Competition, with $13,000 in prizes. The gregarious and hearty competitors are judged on the quality of the food and on the authenticity of their wagons and their attire. And these wagons are not cheap, with some going for up to $120,000 (not bad appreciation, for a wagon that sold new for $64). One word of advice, get there early and buy tickets to Sunday morning’s biscuits and gravy breakfast, because tickets go fast and the food goes quick.

READER’S CHOICE: National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration’s Chuck Wagon Cook-Off • Lubbock, TX •



Bisbee Breakfast Club
Okay, so it’s technically located in Lowell, Arizona, not Bisbee, but owner Chris Reece was smart to tie his cafe to its extremely close neighbor. This place is usually packed, whether it’s breakfast or lunch time. We never go to Bisbee without stopping for a meal here. Not only are the huevos rancheros and the salads delectable, but also the ambience is fun, as the converted glass factory makes for interesting rooms to spread out the diners. When you stumble out of there with a full belly, just be sure you don’t fall into that mining pit.

READER’S CHOICE: Rock Springs Café • Rock Springs, AZ •



Bobcat Bite
The smell alone is enough to drive a vegetarian into shock. An eating institution in Santa Fe, New Mexico, since 1953, the Bobcat features mouthwatering steaks and pork chops, thick grilled cheese sandwiches and superb cole slaw. But what delights most crowds—and radio’s “The Splendid Table,” TV’s The Food Network, magazines GQ, Travel & Leisure and Gourmet, and George Motz, author of Hamburger America—are the hamburgers (10-ounce freshly ground chuck and sirloin monsters), specifically the famed green-chile cheeseburger. John and Bonnie Eckre, the Bobcat’s owners since May 2001, are America’s burger royalty.

READER’S CHOICE: Buckhorn Exchange • Denver, CO •



Bucket of Blood Saloon
Oftentimes we consider ourselves lucky enough to get to walk through an authentic watering hole and, perhaps, if the place is still operated, grab a drink or two with some friends. But how often do you get to walk into an 1876 saloon, with its Old West furnishings and beautiful view window of the Nevada mountains, and find yourself in a full house packed with period-dressed docents dancing to the music of John David and the Comstock Cowboys? Well, if you’re in Virginia City, Nevada, on a Sunday, that’s the scene you’ll find at Bucket of Blood. We’ve always loved this historic landmark, not least of all because it has been run by McBride & Sons since 1931. But these McBrides have taken this place to another level of respectability, and for that, they deserve our highest honor.

READER’S CHOICE: River City Saloon • Old Sacramento, CA •



Galveston Railroad Museum
After Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in September 2008, most people might have given up after one look at the railroad museum’s display cases floating “like corks in a swimming pool” and the $6.5 million worth of damages to antique locomotives and model trains. In fact, one Galveston museum did do that—the Lone Star Flight Museum, which sustained $18 million in damages, left for Houston in 2011. But this railroad museum chugged on, with a rebuilding effort led by Morris Gould, countless volunteers, FEMA and donations from the Moody Foundation, which first created the museum in 1983. The staff is still working hard to repair and replace what was lost, but the museum did reopen last March. We’re heartened to see some rolling stock has been returned to the mile-and-a-half track. Keep on chugging,...

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