Renegade Roads

Exploring the Old Oregon Country

Invermere-Aerial-Columbia-River-ValleyDavid Thompson was fourteen when he began his life in North America as a clerk’s apprentice with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). He may have been in HBC’s employ for decades if he had not had a chance to do a bit of exploring across Canada.

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The Valiant and Brave

Henry-Flipper-first-black-graduate-of-US-Military-AcademyFrankly, I don’t get re-enactors. Like that overweight, redneck Civil War buff I saw years back, firing his musket, then yelling at advancing Yankee re-enactors: “Eat [bleep] and die!” I can’t see a Reb in 1863 being so plump.

These guys, however, I understand and like. But they’re not “re-enactors.”

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Following the Old Spanish Trail

los-angeles_spanish-trailUnlike the Santa Fe or Oregon Trails, you won’t find any trail ruts on the Old Spanish Trail. For that matter, it’s even hard to find tapas restaurants.

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The Toughest Man West of the Pecos

John-Chisum-Ranch-New-Mexico"Chisum! John Chisum! Weary. Saddle worn.”

Sorry. Every time I think of John Simpson Chisum, I think of the 1970 John Wayne movie Chisum, and Andrew J. Fenady’s theme song.

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On the High Plains Trail . . .of Hall of Fame Western Writers from North Dakota to Wyoming.

L_Amour--Owen-Wister-The-VirginianVanette Johnston was moved to tears when Western Writers of America (WWA) inducted her late husband Terry C. Johnston into the Western Writers Hall of Fame during the annual convention in Las Vegas, Nevada, in June 2013.

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Trail of Tragedy

Sand-Creek-RR_Imdian-delegation-Sand-Creek-Massacre_colorado-history-centerI’ve waited until May to come back, figuring that a late fall or early winter trip would be too depressing. Besides, driving across rural southeastern Colorado in November can be deadly.

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The Frontier Christmas Trail

Santa-Lucia_carolers_nagle-mansion_Georgetown_CO.Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Well, actually they were roasting on a gas barbecue grill, but those warm chestnuts made good hand warmers in the crisp, cold December air at Christmas Market in Georgetown, Colorado.

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Nevada’s Buckaroos, Bonanzas and Boomtowns

Valley-of-Fire-State-ParkI’m standing in Mesquite, Nevada, with Max McCoy, historian, teacher, journalist, novelist, traveler and writer who knows how to turn a phrase.

“This scenery,” he says, “makes me want to really [mess] someone up.”

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On the Trail of Ancient Artists

petroglyphs_valley-of-fire_las-vegas-nvThe tourists from Canada said they could not “read” the petroglyphs carved onto the rock walls at Valley of Fire in Nevada. “They don’t appear to be speaking Blackfoot,” the man told me as he inspected one of the carvings. He was joking, to a point.

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Hail, Columbia!

Columbia-Gorge-and-RiverAll across the Pacific Northwest are reminders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06, although no tangible physical evidence remains. There are rivers, schools, universities, a wildlife refuge and other features named for the exploring party including the two captains.

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History and Art Along the High Road

Haystack-Taos-Valley_boggs_E-L-BlumenscheinA broken wagon spoke deserves all the credit.

Think about it. Needing to repair their wagon, Eastern artists Bert Geer Phillips and Ernest Leonard Blumenschein stopped at a sleepy little village in 1898, and Taos, New Mexico, has not been the same since.

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Love Song to the Plains and the Desert West

RR_Great-Plains_Courtesy-Library-of-Congress_Oklahoma-PressEach year Western Writers of America (WWA) adds a distinguished writer to the Western Writers Hall of Fame (HOF).

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On the Trail of Solomon Butcher

Grandpa-Brumbaugh-sod-house-Coburgh-Post-Office-Custer-County-NebraskaSolomon Butcher first saw Nebraska in 1880 when he claimed homestead land in northeast Custer County.

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Gems Along the Continental Divide

RR_Cripple-Creek-Battle-Mountain-Mines-1900The backbone of the continent—the Continental Divide—is rocky  and rugged in places, and geologically diverse.

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On the Trail of Warring Parties

Civil-War-Confederate-soldier-library-of-congress.A few years ago, I was having dinner with a Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area representative, talking about—what else?—the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri.

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The Northern Plains to the Pacific Northwest

Mount-Ranier_olympia_WA_1916North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Washington mark their quasquicentennials—125 years since achieving statehood—this year and it is a good time to visit a few key places that represent their history.

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Following an American Patriot

RR_Sam-Houston_funeral-home_birth-placeOn this summer month, when most Civil War minds think about the events 150 years ago at a town called Gettysburg, I’d like to draw your attention to a great American, and a Southerner to boot.

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Kansas Cattle Towns, Then and Now

Cowboy-in-Newton-KansasThe only market that Texans can rely on at present for their stock is Bakster [sic] Springs, Kansas …” a Texas drover wrote from present-day Oklahoma back in 1867.

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The Bloody Bozeman

Fort-Ellis-Montana-1871-Bozeman-Trail-historical-photoTrails across the West in the mid-1800s crisscrossed Indian lands, often displacing the people who had been living on the land for generations. The Bozeman Trail is no exception. It cuts through some of the prime hunting grounds for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Crow tribes and was hotly contested as a result.

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Nez Perce in Yellowstone

Fort Yellowstone-Cavalry_Gen. Oliver O. HowardEmma Cowan awoke early the morning of August 24, 1877, to the sound of strange voices coming from outside the tent she shared with husband George on their vacation in Yellowstone National Park. Peering from under the canvas, Emma saw Indians.

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Remembering the Dakota War in Minnesota

Families-on-the-prairie_dakota-warAre you here to see the Dakota War exhibit?” a male worker at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul asks me.

It takes a moment before I can answer. I didn’t expect anyone in Minnesota to be broadcasting the 150th anniversary of a war that most people here would just as soon as forget.

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True Westerners

Andy Thomas

Andy Thomas

Charlie Russell is special because he combined artwork with authentic cowboys, In...

Dark Starr

Dark Starr

One hundred years ago this month, Henry Starr set out to make history. The caree...

The West’s Newest Museum

The West’s Newest Museum

We will be a living institution. We will offer experiences. We will be the story...


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