Here are the winners of our “2006 Best of the West.” Sit back and see if your pick made the list.
Best Living Contemporary Western Artist
This San Francisco native-turned-Seattle resident keeps pushing the envelope. One of his most popular creations turned the Little Bighorn battle into a baseball box score (Sitting Bull got the victory; Custer took the loss). Love him or hate him, he gets attention by helping Western art—and history—cross over to mainstream America.
Readers’ Choice: William Matthews
Best Living Western Sculptor
The Montanan’s goal—“to tell the history, to make people aware of events during the forming of the West”—says it all. Westergard began sculpting in the early 1980s while working as a Western Union computer tech in Great Falls, Montana, and turned to art full time in 1988. Today, collectors of his well-researched bronzes include the National Park Service and the Harrison Western History Research Center at the University of California-Davis.
Readers’ Choice: Harry Jackson
Best Living Native American Artist
This Santa Fe resident gave up a promising career as a bingo caller to return to his true calling, art. Of course, the Oklahoma Sooners fan does it his own way. “I try to zig when everyone else zags,” he says. His contemporary acrylics are bright, beautiful and convey his Comanche heritage. Quanah Parker was his great-great grandfather.
Readers’ Choice: Bunky Echo Hawk
Best Living Cowboy Poet
A lot of cowboy poets have ridden horses, some have even cowboyed, but how many have mounted bareback broncs for a living? Zarzyski has rodeoed in amateur, pro and senior circuits. He has also been honored (for poetry) with the 2005 Montana Governor’s Arts Award for Literature, the 2004 Spur Award and the 1997 Western Heritage Wrangler Award. Hey, poetry’s somewhat easier on one’s bones.
Readers’ Choice: Baxter Black
Best Living Western Novelist
It’s not the awards he’s won (though he has a passel of them), nor the number of books that he’s written (and there are many of those) that make Elmer Kelton the Best Living Western novelist. It’s the characters. Men like Hewey Calloway of The Good Old Boys who is back in Elmer’s newest novel Six Bits a Day, a story of Hewey and brother Walter before their Good Old Boys adventure. Years of agriculture journalism give Elmer’s stories that ring of authenticity lacking in some Westerns. Over the decades, he’s cut to the grit of the lifestyle with titles such as The Time it Never Rained and The Day the Cowboys Quit. We can only hope Elmer never quits himself.
Readers’ Choice: Elmer Kelton
Best Living Western Historical Novelist
Richard S. Wheeler
With books on historical characters such as Meriwether Lewis, Marcus Reno and Bat Masterson, you may think Richard S. Wheeler is a writer of history books. In truth, he is a novelist who can weave a story around a real person or develop someone from scratch, as he did with his most enduring creation Barnaby Skye, a British Navy deserter who finds his way to the American West where he has a cantankerous horse named Jawbone and two Indian wives, Victoria of the Crows and Mary of the Shoshonis. This Montana writer is a master at putting his fictional folk in mining towns, and he throws in religion and some well-drawn women for a complex view of life in the historical West.
Best Living Western Nonfiction Writer
Robert M. Utley
If you read Western history and do not have at least half a dozen books on your shelf by Robert M. Utley, you simply don’t know the meaning of Western history, for he is a master. He’s lived with the research and stories and memories of Georgie Custer longer than Libbie lived with the man himself. He’s brought to life the drudgery of the frontier soldier, outlaws, mountain men and the incomparable Oglala holy man Sitting Bull. And he’s got a heck of an infectious smile, too!
Readers’ Choice: Robert M. Utley
Best Western Screenwriter
Lincoln County, New Mexico’s a long way from Waterbury, Connecticut, but this yankee’s at home putting the West on the silver screen. His credits include Young Guns, Thunderheart, the Western Heritage Wrangler Award-winning Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and the Spur Award-winning Hidalgo, not to mention Rebels, which chronicles Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys.
Best University Press
University of Oklahoma Press
The first university press established in the Southwest has more wins than Barry Switzer. Consider the range of recent Spur winners: D.L. Birchfield’s Field of Honor (Best Western Novel, 2005); Ernest Haycox Jr.’s On A Silver Desert: The Life of Ernest Haycox (Best Western Nonfiction-Biography, 2004); and Will Bagley’s Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows (Best Western Nonfiction-Historical, 2003).
Readers’ Choice: University of Oklahoma
Best Publisher of Western Fiction
Tom Doherty’s company, Forge Books, tops the list as Best Publisher of Western Fiction because it publishes books by both Elmer Kelton and Richard S. Wheeler, and it has released hardcover titles on subjects ranging from an undertaker’s wife to prehistoric people by a host of other award-winning writers: Loren D. Estleman, Lucia St. Clair Robson, Frederick Chiaventone, W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear, Mike Blakely, Win Blevins, David and Aimée Thurlo, Robert Vaughan, Jory Sherman and Bill Brooks. Besides, Forge keeps cranking out Western fiction in a market so soft, it isn’t even buttery.
Readers’ Choice: Forge Books
AZ: Museum of Northern Arizona
This is one place where being “stoned” has artistic connotations. In Flagstaff, explore the hows and whys of an ancient visual language by early inhabitants, who recorded life in the form of petroglyphs (chiseled into stone) and pictographs (drawings on stone). For the adventurous, the museum offers educational day trips and week-long expeditions into remote areas of the Colorado Plateau.
Readers’ Choice: Heard Museum in Phoenix, AZ
CA: Museum of the American West
The myth of the American West resides in a unique visual medium in this Los Angeles museum’s latest exhibit on the Spaghetti Westerns—notably those of Sergio Leone. Artifacts, clips, costumes and posters—not limited to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—are showcased. Contrast those myths with the True West, those of the pioneers, cowboys and immigrants, who trekked onward and created a new nation.
Readers’ Choice: Museum of the American West
CO: Southern Ute Museum
Ute storytellers narrate the four seasons of the circle of life at this museum in Ignacio. This fascinating oral history is located inside a tipi, recited via a modern invention, the DVD. Personalized tours and arts and crafts workshops can also be scheduled. Visit the Bill and Melinda (Gates) computer lab to access further historical information. The gift shop offers authentic Ute beadworks and handcrafts.
Readers’ Choice: Colorado History Museum in Denver, CO
ID: National Oregon-California Trail Interpretive Center
Montpelier, Idaho, where time pauses circa 1850. Once the journey took months, but today’s visitors can camp out under twinkling stars and then travel on an interactive wagon trip, heeding the call to “Go West,” all in the air-conditioned comfort of the 21st century. The railroads soon followed the trails, bringing still more settlers who yearned for their own parcel of land.
Readers’ Choice: Idaho Historical Museum in Boise, ID
KS: Boot Hill Museum at Front Street
Experience life at the end of the cattle trail inside this “Queen of the Cowtowns” living history museum in Dodge City. During the summer season, shoot-outs erupt more frequently than Old Faithful. Damsels grace the Long Branch, trailed by a chuckwagon full of tasty grub. Snag your own bottle of Prickly Ash Bitters—the cure-all for everything from scraped knees to broken hearts.
Readers’ Choice: Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita, KS
MN: Northfield Historical Society Museum
Stand on the teller’s side of the fully restored First National Bank in Northfield and imagine the day of the Great Northfield Raid. That year, in the “new” age of telephones, typewriters and elevators, local citizens had only read about brazen bank robberies. Little did they know…. Hey, where else can visitors buy a Jesse James Bobble Head Doll?
Readers’ Choice: Northfield Historical Society Museum
MO: Steamship Arabia Museum
Time stood still for 132 years until that fateful moment in 1988 when the perfectly preserved daily household goods aboard the ill-fated Steamship Arabia were resurrected from 45 feet of cold Missouri River mud. Everything from the prosaic doorknob and fine china to still edible bottles of pickles and fruit once again see daylight in this Kansas City museum. This is one place where ogling is allowed.
Readers’ Choice: Jesse James Farm in Kearney, MO
MT: Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center
How did L&C find the “right” coast without OnStar®? The Great Falls center offers monthly star-gazing parties to teach the casual observer to plot a course using the night sky. Enjoy the short trail side chats about the challenges the Corps of Discovery encountered from navigating treacherous waterfalls to cataloging newly discovered plant life. Check ahead to see what excursions are scheduled.
Readers’ Choice: Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena, MT
NE: Museum of the Fur Trade
Located at the site of an original trading post, near Chadron, it’s no wonder this museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the North American fur trade. But it does an excellent job of it, with its exhibits on trade goods, munitions and costumes. Our favorite is the museum’s garden plot, which grows melons, beans and squash, using heritage seeds from the original fruit that was once planted by Indians of the Missouri Valley. It drives home the point that Indian agriculture brought sustenance for trading post crews.
NV: Nevada State Museum
Explore millions of years of Nevada geological history, beginning when the sea carved its mark upon the land at this Carson City museum. Study the skeletal remains of a mammoth. Venture through a genuine ghost town and underground mine. Along the way, see frontier history unfold. The last Friday of each month, watch Old Number “1” press (forged in 1869) mint coins.
NM: Hubbard Museum of the American West
Ten thousand and one ways to accessorize a horse. The Anne Stradling collection in Ruidoso exhibits it all. In classes geared for the next generation, learn how to draw the magnificent four-footed “beast” that carried the cowboy up the cattle trails. For the brave, this is the place to come face-to-face with legendary lawmen.
Readers’ Choice: Hubbard Museum of the American West
ND: Pioneer Trails Regional Museum
Oh, give me a home where the dino once roamed, and please, let me discover a bone! Investigate the ill-fated 1864 James L. Fisk expedition or follow David S. Stanley’s 1873 railroad survey at this Bowman museum. See how homesteading the unforgiving Northern plains produced a particular breed of rancher. Take a stroll through the native plant gardens along the Prairie Walk.
Readers’ Choice: North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck
Remington Arms, Browning, Colt, Charles Russell and Frederic Remington all have a spot at the Bartlesville museum that began as a place to house a beloved airplane. Here, founder Frank Phillips sought to preserve the history of the West. Drive through the 3,600-acre wildlife preserve—the native home to bison, elk and longhorn cattle—on the road to the museum.
Readers’ Choice: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City
OR: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
More than four walls, the Oregon City museum presents a dramatization of what travelers may have encountered along the trail. Experience “hands on” loading of month’s worth of provisions into a wagon bed. Children can try out games and toys that youngsters their age played—before the invention of the phrase “Are we there yet?”
Readers’ Choice: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
SD: The Journey Museum
At this Rapid City museum, witness archaeologists build a snapshot of the past as you journey through time, back to when the great lizards thundered across lush land. Eons later, a Lakota storyteller recounts her nation’s life of a people surviving on the mighty buffalo. Travel on to the discovery of gold and the outsiders who descended onto the Black Hills of the Lakota homeland.
TX: Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
If you think picture postcards are only for tourists, check out how Texas History is preserved on the lowly card (all 574 of them). The Austin museum also contrasts the face of small town America with the business executive. Exhibits are constantly on the move throughout the museum’s three floors, while computers allow virtual access to museums and historical sites across the state.
Readers’ Choice: Buckhorn Saloon & Museum in San Antonio, TX
UT: Utah Museum of Fine Arts
Fine art collections, docent-led tours, world history, teacher education and summer classes for kids, this Salt Lake City museum has it all. The visitor can travel through the art of Asia as well as compare and contrast the legends of the American West with documented history.
WA: Chelan County Historical Museum and Pioneer Village
Investigate 9,000 years of natural history and artifacts of the Columbia and Snake River Valleys in Cashmere. Learn history through a scavenger hunt. Outside, watch water tumble over an historic waterwheel. Stroll through vintage railroad cars, and visit the Pioneer Village. Apple days are celebrated the first weekend of October. Plan a day, pack a picnic lunch and snack on apple pie.
WY: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
A six for one—Buffalo Bill, Western Art, Plains Indians, Cody Firearms and Draper Natural History encompass the Cody museums in addition to the Harold McCracken Research Library. Be sure to give a listen to the music of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Cowboy Band. BB’s Iowa childhood home, a well seasoned traveler (visit to discover why), rests comfortably outside the center.
Readers’ Choice: Buffalo Bill Historical Center
Best Vintage Clothing Manufacturer
Rockmount Ranch Wear
A family-owned business since 1946, Rockmount Ranch Wear of Denver, Colorado, makes vintage-inspired shirts with integrity and style worn by cowboys, rock stars and wanna-bes. The originator of the snap fastener (in lieu of buttons), “Papa” Jack Weil blazed a trail through the West, supplying retailers with fine hats, clothing and bolo ties.
Readers’ Choice: Wahmaker
Best Jean Trend Setter
Rocky Mountain Clothing Co.
Denver-based Rocky Mountain Clothing began as the Stockman Farmer Supply Company in 1919; it’s now part of the Miller Industries. Rockies jeans nip in at the waist and have room in the seat, making them comfortable when riding a horse. The company’s Cinch Jeans are popular with younger rodeo cowboys, while Cruel Girl jeans are aimed at the junior market.
Readers’ Choice: Rocky Mountain Clothing Co.’s Cruel Girl Jeans
Best Custom Hatmaker
Rand Custom Hats
Located in Billings, Montana, Rand Hats reflects years of tradition and craftsmanship, descending from a line of hatters spanning over a century of experience. Each custom-made hat offers unlimited brim options, beaver felt bodies and unique finishes, including the standard distressed finish. Edge beading, horsehair stampede strings, ribbon trims and other details make a difference. Rand’s Western, Cattleman’s, Vintage and Ladies styles are incomparable.
Readers’ Choice: Texas Hatters
Best Hatmaker-Large Manufacturer
Folks don’t call this company maker the Boss of the Plains for nothing. The classic styles of John B. Stetson have been covering many a rancher’s head since 1865, when Stetson rented a room, bought tools and $10 worth of fur, and launched his company. Stetson offers hats for every type of style, including an anniversary fur felt hat to celebrate its 140th birthday this year.
Readers’ Choice: Stetson
Best Custom Bootmaker
An epicurean of artistic cowboy boot design, Canadian bootmaker Tony Benatar of Toronto launched Liberty Boots in the 1980s and has already made boot history. Purveyor of the snazziest designs, combining luscious leathers, cutwork, inlay and pitiado (an almost lost art involving embroidery with white cactus fiber), his boots have a clean, elegant quality adorned with overlay, lacing and multiple stitching. Liberty Boots favors designs from the 1940-1950s, so the look is always timeless.
Readers’ Choice: Rocketbuster Boots
Best Bootmaker-Large Manufacturer
Lucchese boot Co.
Texas bootmaker Lucchese credits its success to founder Sam Lucchese, who came to America from Italy in 1880 to make boots of uncompromising quality. Since 1883, the Lucchese label has been worn by presidents, film stars and cowboys, as the boots’ comfort is legendary, thanks to a unique patented last and the best materials. Today’s colorful collection includes Charlie Horse for women, Lucchese 2000 and their Classics, offering wide choices in leathers and finishes.
Readers’ Choice: Lucchese Boot Co.
Best Leather Goods Manufacturer
You’ve seen them in Western stores across America: stunning handbags, overnight cases, briefcases, decorative pillows and gift accessories, all in hand-carved and embellished leather in the true Western tradition. This Florida-based manufacture understood just what the market needed and set out to develop over 450 different designs at affordable prices, offering stylish choices in leather colors and trims with conchos, fringes and studs—all backed by a lifetime guarantee.
Readers’ Choice: Scully
Best Western Wear Store
Texas Jack’s Wild West Outfitter
Step back in time to Fredericksburg, Texas, and indulge your fancy at Texas Jack’s, that fine purveyor of period Western clothing and firearms—originals and reproductions. A veritable institution in the Texas Hill Country with over 6,000 square feet of display, Jack’s supports SASS and other shooting organizations while offering the very best labels in men’s and women’s frontier attire. The store’s online presence offers great choices, plus sale items and the same friendly service you’ll find in their store. Great duds and shootin’ irons to fill every need.
Readers’ Choice: Texas Jack’s Wild West Outfitter
Best Western Shirt Maker
There’s just something special about a Stubbs’ shirt: maybe it’s the fit, the look or the details. Not that this Dallas manufacturer doesn’t make nice looking trousers and skirts, too, but it’s the shirts (sport, dress or formal) that built the legend. They’re made of the finest fabrics, like cotton, tencel and bemberg, and feature superlative styling, some with interchangeable button strips and cufflinks. For those who wear the classic style of the old frontier, Stubbs sets the standard for period elegance. Their Western shirts are absolute cowboy class.
Readers’ Choice: Wrangler
Best Pro Rodeo
Cheyenne Frontier Days
They call this one “the daddy of ’em all,” and it lives up to that status each July. Cheyenne is pure cowboy most of the time, but especially during the annual PRCA extravaganza, featuring rodeo’s top names and Harry Vold’s dynamite bucking stock. In 1897, a local newspaper called the event “the greatest and most successful occasion ever celebrated in the West.” That hasn’t changed.
Readers’ Choice: Cheyenne Frontier Days
Best Circuit Rodeo
Cody Nite Rodeo
From kids riding stick horses to cowboys on bucking bulls, the Cody Nite Rodeo has all the thrills of down-in-the-dirt entertainment. It takes place nightly from June 1 to August 31. And this isn’t some fly-by-night operation either, because there’s been a nightly summer rodeo in Cody for the past 60 years. It’s a place for younger cowboys to hone their skills and experienced riders to find some adulation.
Readers’ Choice: Longhorn World Championship Rodeo in Nashville, TN
Best Ranch Rodeo
World Championship Ranch Rodeo
Asked about pro rodeo cowboys, a ranch hand participating for bragging rights in this annual event in Amarillo, Texas, said, “They’re cocky sons-of-bitches.” If you want honesty and a real treat watching real cowboys/cowgirls ply their trade, the championship for working cowhands at the Amarillo Convention Center is a must. Aside from some profanity and Copenhagen, the Working Ranch Cowboys Association’s World Series is family friendly.
Readers’ Choice: World Championship Ranch Rodeo
Best Western Film Festival
Lone Pine Western Film Festival
Since 1920, Hollywood has loved Lone Pine, California. John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Steve McQueen and Randolph Scott walked, and rode, this country, with several classics (The Gunfighter, High Sierra, The Ox-Bow Incident, Bad Day at Black Rock) filmed here. There’s no better place to hold a Western film festival, and Lone Pine’s done a great job for 16 years.
Readers’ Choice: Lone Pine Western Film Festival
Best Western Festival
Festival of the West
March in Arizona isn’t just spring-training baseball. It’s cowboys, buffalo hunters, Western authors, Western musicians, Western re-enactors, Western movie and TV stars, and Western shopping. It’s all things Western, a fun-filled gathering that showcases why we still love the Old West. Check out the 16th annual show next year, from March 16-19 at Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix.
Best Old West Re-enactment
Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson live! For better than a decade, Bob Charnes, Dale Charnes and Corky Corkran have been reliving—and making—history with their authentic re-creations of the Wild West. This Mesa-based organization has its own Western set, and the group has performed everywhere from Tombstone to the Super Bowl (pregame show, not the ballgame).
Readers’ Choice: Helldorado Days in Tombstone, AZ
Best Mountain Man Rendezvous
Fort Bridger, WY Labor Day Weekend
Woodsmoke drifts from the fire pit in the Bridger Trading Post, and drums pound in the Indian village where dancers flatten the grass under their fast-moving moccasins. The most difficult thing about attending the Labor Day Fort Bridger Mountain Man Rendezvous is finding a place to park in the tiny community that plays host. Buckskinners blow off blackpowder, traders hawk their wares and you can buy a cap or a pot, a blanket or a shirt as you keep an eye peeled for Old Gabe himself; some of these guys (and gals) look grizzly enough to be the 200-year-old mountaineer.
Readers’ Choice: 1883 Mountain Man Rendezvous in Riverton, WY
Best Western Auction
Brian Lebel’s Cody Old West Show & Auction
Brian Lebel is one of the great collectors of Old West artifacts, and this annual show (next year’s biggie, June 22-24), in the Wyoming burg Buffalo Bill Cody helped found, is the place to be. Typically, you’ll find the best collectors, historians and tourists on hand, looking over the best art, firearms and Western memorabilia. Even the show’s catalogue is a collector’s item.
Readers’ Choice: Brian Lebel’s Cody Old West Show & Auction
Best Tourist Attraction (Non-National Park)
Devil’s Tower National Monument
South Dakota likes to claim it, but this landmark is squarely in Wyoming. American Indians call the rock monolith Bear’s Lodge, and that is the name given by the area’s first cartographer, Valentine T. McGillycuddy in 1875. But this stone pillar—the first national monument in the country—will celebrate its centennial in 2006 under the name Devil’s Tower, a moniker that’s been around as long as it’s been a monument. The site is sacred to American Indians and a magnet for rock climbers. For the most part, the users get along. But if you suggest a name change or a ban on rock climbing, that’s sure to set off a media frenzy.
Readers’ Choice: Old Sacramento State Historic Park
Best Western Train Ride
Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
The narrow gauge tracks of the Durango-Silverton railroad cling to the granite walls above the Animas River that crashes and foams in the gorge below, making this one of the most scenic and exhilarating train rides in the West. Movie scenes have been filmed where the train breaks out along the high line of the Animas Canyon. Riding the train these days involves a “stress test on the coaches” as passengers crowd to the river side of the cars for a view of the spectacular canyon below with its blue, green and foaming white waters.
Readers’ Choice: Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Best Wagon Train Experience
Ben Kern’s Cherokee Trail Wagon Train
Expect to be up before daylight if you plan to take your wagon (no rubber tires allowed) or horse and travel the old Western trails with Ben Kern. Somewhere around dark-thirty, Kern and his able “range detective” outrider, Larry Gomez, will be up rattling feed pans and waking the camp; they’ll be ready to ride shortly after first light, and they’ll put you right on the tracks of 19th-century trails. Kern has been following the Cherokee Trail and may next turn his attention to the Overland Trail across southern Wyoming. He’s already been over the Oregon, Mormon, California and Bozeman routes. The wagon master can get ornery at times. Veteran travelers of his would say, in fact, that he is closely related to his mules—stubborn, determined and certain his way is always right.
Best Western Riverboat Cruise
Lewis & Clark Cruise American West Steamboat Company
Lewis and Clark did not have a sternwheeler to navigate the Columbia River as they completed the final leg of their journey to the ocean in 1805, but you can bet they would have appreciated not only the power of an American West Steamboat Company vessel, but also the food on board! You can travel their final route to the mouth of the Columbia in a style the captains never enjoyed. The eight-day Lewis and Clark Cruise on the Queen of the West includes the region from the Cascades to Fort Clatsop while the seven-day Path of the Explorers cruise on the Empress of the North sternwheeler covers the Columbia from Portland, Oregon, traveling upstream to Lewiston, Idaho, where you can jump on a jetboat for a thrilling ride to Hells Canyon.
Readers’ Choice: Mark Twain Riverboat at Disneyland, CA
Best Backcountry Outfitter
Rimrock Dude Ranch
Fishermen, hunters and tourists will find no better ride into the Thorofare and Yellowstone wilderness areas of northwest Wyoming than a trip with Cody, Wyoming, outfitter Gary Fales who claims “there is no trail, pass or creek in this country that we have not ridden.” His parents outfitted long before he took over the company, establishing a tradition for spectacular rides through high wilderness between Cody and Jackson.
Best Ghost Town
“Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.” That has to be one of the great Western quotes. Ghost towns come and go (if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be ghost towns!), but Bodie came (a population of 10,000, turning out $25 million in gold and silver) and went (blowing, and burning, away by the early 1900s) and has come back again (as a state historic park).
Readers’ Choice: Calico, CA
Best Western Movie Set
Credit the late Happy Shanan for this magnificent set. The south Texas rancher-mayor-businessman helped save a dying Brackettville after Fort Clark closed in 1944 by bringing movie folks to make Arrowhead and The Last Command at the old fort. Then he coaxed John Wayne to build a set on his ranch using real buildings—not false fronts—for his train wreck/epic The Alamo. Subsequent films included Two Rode Together, Bandolero! and Lonesome Dove.
Readers’ Choice: Old Tucson Studios
Best Stagecoach Ride
Lincoln County Overland Stage CO.
To date, no passenger on any stagecoach driven by Ed Heimann has ever gotten seasick, which is more than you can say for the thousands of Overland travelers in the 1800s. The owner/driver/stagecoach/history buff offers various runs through the scenic, historic area around Lincoln and Fort Stanton, New Mexico. No gimmicks; just clean fun and a comfortable ride.
Readers’ Choice: Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, CA
Best Western Saddlemaker
Ah, the power of higher education. Roger Blomquist was working on his master’s thesis on the development and evolution of the Wyoming stock saddle (1860-1930), which paved the way to his opening Provo, Utah-based Deseret Saddlery in 1999. He makes the saddles, wife Angela manages the business and Western enthusiasts benefit from his authentic saddles and accouterments.
Readers’ Choice: Don King of King’s Saddlery
Best Old West Bowie Knife Maker
We haven’t seen any knife maker yet that can cut Bob Giles (Cowboy Bob’s Frontier Trappings) from our Best of the West list! From big clip point Bowies of the 1830s to the smaller 1880s’ hunter’s companion knives, this Whitefish, Montana, artisan handcrafts each blade from recycled circular sawmill blades, then fits them with period-correct handles of ivory, ebony, pearl and other 19th-century materials—including silvered Tiffany style grips.
Readers’ Choice: Bob Giles
Douglas Magnus (Heartline) of Santa Fe, New Mexico, has turned buckle making into an art, crafting ranger sets and belt keepers out of purest silver in the most stunning of contemporary and Southwestern-influenced designs. The owner of one of the oldest Turquoise sources in all of New Mexico, the Cerillos Mine, Magnus hand selects stones for his often one-of-a-kind speciality buckles and fine jewelry pieces, combining them with pearls, gold and diamonds in the sleekest settings.
“There’s only one way to do it, that is to start a fire and make mistakes,” Pete Bethke of Fort Larned says about blacksmithing. “I’ve had to struggle for everything here, from the simple thing of maintaining your fire to catching it at the right heat.” But when the heat of the forge is right, he wields a hammer like it is an extension of his hand, bending and shaping molten metal into dinner bells and ringers, as well as pot hooks for use over a campfire or open fireplace.
Best Western Furniture Maker
Shaker, Molesworth, New Mexican and Native American styles are molded into unique furniture by Cody, Wyoming, craftsman Lester Santos, who trained with other companies before branching off on his own where his artistry with wood really shines. Lester donates a portion of all proceeds to a program that buys and plants more trees, ensuring the future for wood craftspeople.
Best Tent Maker
Let’s face it, you need a tent—one that is sturdy, yet easy to set up in a Wyoming windstorm. And David Ellis of Durango, Colorado, makes cowboy range tents that fit the bill perfectly. He also crafts sturdy wall tents, including one sold to a New Yorker who pitched it on a rooftop in Manhattan! Besides cowboy tents, David can build you a chuckwagon cook fly, tipi or wall tent almost big enough to be a year-round home (so long as you don’t live in Wyoming, that is).
Readers’ Choice: Panther Primitives
AZ: Fort Bowie
The legendary fort (1862-94) is not easy to get to—you have to hike—and most of the buildings are nothing more than weathered adobe walls. But the journey itself is a walk through history (think Cochise, Geronimo). Only keep in mind the rules of the road: Rattlesnakes have the right of way.
Readers’ Choice: Tombstone, AZ
CA: Sutter’s Fort
Swiss immigrant John Sutter wanted to create an agricultural empire when he received a 48,000-acre land grant, but there was gold in that there valley. The fort, located in midtown Sacramento, is the only remnant of Sutter’s New Helvetia. The park features a store and a self-guided audio tour, and private parties can be arranged at the fort.
CO: Bent’s “Old” Fort
Stepping through the heavy gates into the adobe-walled courtyard of restored Bent’s “Old” Fort makes you want to start looking in the nooks and crannies for the likes of Kit Carson, William Bent, Ceran St. Vrain, Stephen Watts Kearny, Mary Donoho, Susan Magoffin, John C. Fremont plus Cheyenne, Arapaho and Cherokee Indians. They all spent time here, resupplying as they followed the Santa Fe Trail or stopping at the fort along the Arkansas River to trade pelts and furs for supplies.
Readers’ Choice: Cripple Creek, CO
ID: White Bird Battlefield
The opening salvo of the 1877 Nez Perce War took place on this grassy hillside above White Bird Creek, just north of White Bird, Idaho. Today, you’ll find an overlook with historical signs about the battle and its players placed along U.S. Highway 95. You can also take the dirt road to the bottom of the battlefield, pick up a trail guide from the self-service box and walk the area. Climbing the steep hill will give you an appreciation for both the Indian and military participants.
Readers’ Choice: White Bird Battlefield
KS: Fort Larned
Smoke still smudges the sky above the blacksmith shop at Fort Larned, evidence that although this military post was abandoned decades ago, life here continues. Costumed interpreters bring to life the fort that served military expeditions, Indian tribes and emigrant travelers. Situated on the prairie, the setting remains representative of the 19th century when George Custer and Bill Hickok tromped the grounds.
Readers’ Choice: Dodge City, KS
LA: Chalmette Battlefield
Never heard of this one? Here’s a clue: “In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.” Chalmette Battlefield preserves the site of the Battle of New Orleans, where Andrew Jackson whipped the British on January 8, 1815, and became a national hero (Cherokees may disagree). Also worth a look is the plantation’s circa 1833 Malus-Beauregard House.
Readers’ Choice: New Orleans, LA
MN: First National Bank
Give a tip of the old Stetson to the Northfield Historical Society, which, since taking over in 1975, has restored the building Hiram Scriver built in 1868 to its 1876 appearance. That’s when the James and Younger brothers, and a few unlucky associates, tried to rob the bank and got shot to pieces.
Readers’ Choice: Northfield, MN
MO: Pike’s Peak Stables
The old brick stables used by Russell, Majors and Waddell’s Pony Express venture are still standing, thanks to M. Karl Goetz, the Goetz Pony Express Foundation and the folks of St. Joseph, who saved the historic structure from demolition in the 1950s. Today, the stables house the magnificent Pony Express Museum. You can even pump water from the original well.
Readers’ Choice: Jesse James Home in St. Joseph, MO
MT: Little Bighorn Battlefield, Crow Agency
White monuments, a crisscross of walking trails/driving paths and a new monument (recognizing the American Indian side of the story at Little Bighorn Battlefield) immerse you in the event that changed life forever for hundreds of soldier families and thousands of Indians. Even if you are unfamiliar with all the players and the nuances of who stood where and when, you can absorb the reality of the bloody clash fought across this long hillside battlefield. Try to leave your 21st-century values in the car and put yourself into the mindset of those who were engaged here in the 19th century.
Readers’ Choice: Little Bighorn Battlefield, Crow Agency
NE: Fort Robinson
The barracks where Cheyenne Indians faced weeks of confinement in 1879 after their outbreak from Indian Territory have been re-created adjacent to the adjutant’s office (also re-created) where Crazy Horse died. These are just two of the structures representing 19th-century life at this post, which served as a base of operations both during and after the Great Sioux War. As an added bonus, some of the original military quarters are maintained and available for rent, giving you a chance to not only visit, but also stay at, this post.
Readers’ Choice: Rock Creek Station near Fairbury, NE
One of the state’s best ghost towns once served as home for 30,000 folks, when it produced $11 million in gold four years after being founded in 1902. Wyatt and Virgil Earp spent some time in this Esmerelda County town, which began to decline within 10 years but remains popular among ghost town junkies.
Readers’ Choice: Virginia City, NV
The main setting for the Lincoln County War preserves 11 historic buildings as part of Lincoln State Monument, a National Historic Landmark. Original merchandise remains on the shelves of the Tunstall Store, and visitors can watch for ne’er-do-wells from atop the Torreon or check out where Billy the Kid’s deputies, Bell and Olinger, checked out when the Kid broke out of jail from the Old Lincoln County Courthouse.
Readers’ Choice: Lincoln, NM
ND: Fort Abraham Lincoln
Back in 1876, George Armstrong Custer and company left the fort bound for Montana and wound up taking a trip to eternity. In 1874, folks considered this outpost the “premiere” frontier fort, which has been restored to its 1875 appearance and features living history tours through the Custer House and Central Barracks.
Readers’ Choice: Medora, ND
Before the Little Bighorn, George Custer earned his reputation for fighting Indians along the Washita, where soldiers attacked the Southern Cheyenne village of Black Kettle, a peace chief, on November 27, 1868. Now a National Historic Site, the park is remote, so it’s a good idea to check out the Black Kettle Museum in nearby Cheyenne first.
Readers’ Choice: Fort Sill, OK
OR: Pendleton Underground Tours
In the 1890s, Chinese workers built an elaborate series of underground tunnels that became their homes and businesses in a vibrant underground city. Other merchants also sold their wares underground, including a German butcher who had a meat market. There was also an ice cream parlor for “refined” folks, plus profitable bordellos frequented by cowboys and sheepherders. This Chinese enclave had a new purpose during Prohibition when saloons and gambling dens found refuge here, as well.
SD: Crazy Horse Mountain
There is no known photograph of Crazy Horse, yet his likeness is being carved in granite, literally. The family enterprise to develop Crazy Horse Mountain has been underway for decades. The chief’s nose, head and flowing warbonnet are discernable, and the image of the horse he rides and his lance are also becoming apparent. Although the monument can be seen from the highway, for a better view and more information on its creation, pay the admission fee and explore the visitor center.
Readers’ Choice: Deadwood, SD
Downtown skyscrapers can’t overshadow this shrine to independence. Mission San Antonio de Valero earned its place in history when its defenders fell on March 6, 1836, to Mexican forces. No matter your preference—John Wayne or Fess Parker; Viva Max or The Last Command; Paul Hutton or Bill Groneman—the Alamo remains a moving testament to courage.
UT: Mountain Meadows massacre site
Two monuments—one listing victim’s names but providing no real explanation of how/why they died, and another more massive structure built atop their mass grave—mark the most horrific attack on a wagon train in the history of the West. The sagebrush and cedar-lined hillsides above a still-lush valley (now covered by irrigated fields) are stark reminders of the idyllic setting, where in September 1857, the Albert Fancher wagon train camped for a few days. But their peaceful camp was turned into a hell—the nation’s first 9.11—when Mormon militiamen attacked and killed all but 17 children. Only one Mormon, John D. Lee, was ever tried and convicted of the hate crime. Who ordered the massacre? And why? Those questions may never be answered.
Readers’ Choice: Mountain Meadows Massacre Site
WA: Fort Vancouver
If John McLoughlin had been less compassionate, perhaps the history of the Pacific Northwest would be told by the Brits, rather than we Americans. But, when the earliest overland emigrants reached Fort Vancouver, weary, hungry and in need of support, he shared from the larder of the British Hudson’s Bay Company. His home is a cornerstone of Fort Vancouver and just one of the important structures remaining. Extensive archaeological excavations have been done in and near the fort, yielding a plethora of artifacts—many of them on display—that tell the story of life here a century and a half ago better than any book.
WY: Fort Laramie
From a fur trade display beside the Laramie River to Old Bedlam (the oldest extant building in Wyoming) to Oregon Trail ruts and restored officers barracks, this fort steeps you in the history of the people it served: fur traders, overland travelers and military. There isn’t a belfry, but there are bats and a few ghosts inhabit the place as well; they’ve been known to assist weary trail travelers.
Readers’ Choice: Laramie, WY
Best Cap and Ball Revolver Reproduction
NAVY ARMS 1860 ARMY MODEL COLT
While most folks associate Wild Bill Hickok with Colt’s 1851 Navy, the “Prince of Pistoleers” also favored the sleek and more powerful, .44 caliber, 1860 Army Model Colt, as did the U.S. Cavalry and thousands of other Westerners. This year, we doff our sombrero to Navy Arms’ authentic and well-balanced replica of that fine old percussion smokewagon.
Best Cap and Ball Rifle Reproduction
TAYLOR’S & CO. U.S. MODEL 1855 2nd MODEL PERCUSSION RIFLE
Taylor’s & Co.’s new replica of the U.S. Model 1855 2nd Model Percussion Rifle is a dead-on copy of the original .58 caliber muzzle-loader that saw service in the pre-Civil War West. Today, this handsome model is enjoying new popularity with blackpowder enthusiasts. Taylor’s well-made replica features authentic details like the steel patchbox, “1859” dated lock plate and two-leaf, military-style rear sight.
Best Cartridge Conversion Revolver Reproduction
Cimarron F.A. Co. Richards-Mason 1851 Navy Conversion
Once again, Cimarron F.A. Co. takes top honors with its topnotch replica of the Richards-Mason 1851 Navy Conversion—a revolver that played a larger role in the taming of the frontier than it has been given credit for. Today, cartridge conversion replicas are enjoying a new popularity, especially in cowboy action shooting. Cimarron’s handsome reproduction has the looks and feel of this favorite 19th-century six-gun.
Best Old West Repeating Rifle Reproduction
L. Romano Rifle Co. Spencer Seven-Shot Repeater
The Spencer Seven-shot Repeater not only saw much service in the Civil War, it also saw heavy use in the post-war West by military and civilian riflemen alike. The L. Romano Rifle Co. of Pennellville, New York, custom produces (in limited quantities) about the best reproduction of this famed early .56-50 caliber lever-action we’ve ever seen. Made in carbine or rifle form, Romano’s Spencers are truly exceptional firearms.
Readers’ Choice: 1873 Winchester by Uberti
Best Old West Single Shot Rifle Reproduction
C. Sharps Arms 1877 Sharps
C. Sharps Arms’ version of the elegant and graceful 1877 Sharps, often called the “English Model” because of its slender British styling, is our pick for 2005. This streamlined, handsome and finely crafted rifle is an accurate shooter and authentic re-creation of the last of the sidehammer Sharps rifles, as sold by Western arms dealers of the frontier era.
Best Single Action Army Revolver
United States Fire-Arms Mfg. Co. Single Action Army
Sam Colt can’t be resting in peace, knowing that what we consider to be the best version of his famed 1873 model isn’t made by his own firm. The United States Fire-Arms Manufacturing Co.’s Peacemaker reproduction—simply called the Single Action Army—is an extremely well-made single action revolver. Reasonably priced for such quality, it could pass for the real deal on any Westerner’s hip.
Readers’ Choice: Single Action Army by Colt
Best Frontier Cartridge Revolver Reproduction
Navy Arms 1875 Smith & Wesson Schofield
Perhaps one of the most natural pointing revolvers around, Navy Arms’ quality replica of the 1875 Smith & Wesson Schofield model hits the bull’s-eye in this department. Navy’s .45 Colt, top-break six-shooter is a spitting image of the gun that was also favored by Cole Younger and later used by Wells Fargo & Co. It’s a frontier single action with a different look.
Best Authentic Gunleather Artisan
El Paso Saddlery
El Paso Saddlery, of El Paso, Texas, has been producing authentic Old West gunleather for decades and continues to handcraft some of the finest frontier-styled gun rigs around. Plain, border stamp tooled or full floral carved and tooled (using 19th-century patterns), the company’s California Slim Jims, Mexican loop style, shoulder holsters and money/cartridge belts look so good, they should be in museums—as a matter of fact, some of them are.
Readers’ Choice: Rick Bachman of Old West Productions in Florence, MT
Best Mounted Shooting Event
CMSA World Championship
The Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association’s (CMSA) World Championship, held at West World in Scottsdale, Arizona, is the place to see about 300 of the top cowboy mounted shooters and their spirited horses come from all over the country to compete for around $80,000 in money and awards—including saddles and guns. This year’s “World” will be held November 22-27 and also features Saturday night entertainment and Western vendors.
Readers’ Choice: End of Trail
Best Single Action Shooting Match
Call us “Home Boys,” but we still like Winter Range with its authentic scenery, mild Arizona winter weather, cowboy action and mounted shooting and other Western doin’s. This colorful frontier encampment and exhibition, held in the beautiful Sonoran desert, just north of Phoenix, Arizona, is SASS’ National Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting, and it’s produced by the Arizona Territorial Company of Rough Riders. Next year’s match will be held on March 8-12.
Readers’ Choice: End of Trail
WILD WEST TOWN
Still too tough to die (even though the town is at risk to lose its National Historical Landmark status, see p. 31). You can’t forget Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, the Clantons and the McLaurys, but Tombstone isn’t only defined by a 27-second gunfight that wasn’t even at the O.K. Corral. It’s the Birdcage and Boot Hill, and silver mining and the Epitaph, and a whole lot more—as 450,000 tourists learn every year.
Readers’ Choice: Tombstone, AZ
When John Marshall plucked a gold nugget from the sawmill race in America River in January 1848, he altered the course of Western history, spawning a California rush and the gold town of Coloma. The river still runs through here but most of the mining is conducted by tourists who shake their pan for gold. They also slap down their hard-earned cash for a raft trip on the American or a bottle of good wine.
If you want a real Rocky Mountain high, come to the rollicking little burg that’s twice as high as mile-high Denver. From the Tabor Opera House to the Matchless Mine, from the Healy House to John B. “Texas Jack” Omohundro’s grave, Leadville rocks. Walk the streets that Doc Holliday roamed. Just take time to get acclimated to that altitude.
Readers’ Choice: Buckskin Joe, CO
ID: Idaho City
Prospectors poured into the Boise Basin by the thousands soon after the first gold discoveries in 1862, giving quick rise to Idaho City. So many came here that the town soon rivaled Portland in population. But fires devastated the community more than once, the gold gave out and the hoards left … for the most part. Today’s Idaho City is a reminder of what it once was. You can still stroll along a boardwalk or purchase items at the Merc.
Readers’ Choice: Riggins, ID
The largest town in the Sunflower state relives its growing pains (1865-80) from cowtown to farming center at the ever-growing Old Cowtown Museum, one of the best living history sites around. National headquarters of Sheplers Western Wear, Wichita is also home to a bevy of other museums and a mighty fine zoo.
Readers’ Choice: Dodge City, KS
Any town that opened a can of whoop-ass on the James-Younger Gang gets our vote. That September 7, 1876, rout seemed as unlikely as Olympic hockey’s “Miracle on Ice.” Northfield keeps rubbing it in, too, with the annual “Defeat of Jesse James Days” festival, held the weekend after Labor Day.
In February 1866, the James-Younger Gang made history here by pulling off the first peacetime bank holdup in broad daylight. The old savings and loan, now the Jesse James Bank Museum, hasn’t changed much, but what’s really showcased is Missouri hospitality—as long as you aren’t robbing banks or shooting innocent citizens.
MT: Virginia City
Find a shady spot along the boardwalk in Virginia City and soak in some gold town history. This is the town where the Montana Historical Society was born, and a lot of the buildings date back to its 1860s’ gold mining era. You’ll trip over the history here because there’s so much of it to experience: stagecoach rides, a train, shopping at Rank’s Mercantile (a great store for Old West clothing), a melodrama and the Bale of Hay Saloon (among other places to sip some suds). If you hang around long enough, you may even bump into the ghost of Virginia Dale Slade, who tried unsuccessfully to rescue husband Jack from a vigilante necktie party.
Readers’ Choice: Great Falls, MT
There’s a shoot-out in town almost every night, a musical review on stage at the Crystal Palace Saloon and you can find a juicy beef steak. But let’s face it, this place is perfectly tame compared to its early days as an end-of-trail cowtown. And no, even if you do decide to become cowboy rowdy, it’s unlikely you’ll end up as the newest resident of Boothill (though, of course, you may decide to take a stroll through this 19th-century cemetery).
Readers’ Choice: Omaha, NE
NV: Virginia City
“The Richest Place on Earth” remains a treasure trove for history buffs. Nevada’s oldest hotel, the 1859 Gold Hill, includes four original rooms, while the Nevada Gambling Museum and Mark Twain Museums are popular with tourists—and that’s just the beginning around the Comstock Lode. This town is so wild, even wild horses wander into town on occasion.
Readers’ Choice: Virginia City, NV
Little has changed—in appearance, not temperament—since Billy the Kid, Jesse Evans and Jimmy Dolan turned Lincoln into America’s most dangerous street. John Tunstall’s store, the Torreon and the Lincoln County Courthouse are well preserved, and the annual Old Lincoln Days is a hit with tourists. Now if only the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Posse would pay close attention to history during its re-enactments.
Readers’ Choice: Lincoln, NM
A French nobleman founded this town, but we give Medora the nod because if it’s good enough for Teddy Roosevelt, by dang, it’s good enough for us. Teddy always said his two ranches, the Maltese Cross and the Elkhorn, provided the “romance of my life.” We all know he went on to assault San Juan Hill and then the White House where he established a reputation as the first great conservationist, signing laws that protected antiquities, created national monuments, parks and wildlife refuges, and established the U.S. Forest Service.
Readers’ Choice: Medora, ND
Tom Mix had a lot of style—just take a look at the August 2005 cover of True West for proof—and he once tended bar at the Blue Bell Saloon in downtown Guthrie. So if you want to work on your style, we suggest you pull up a chair in the Blue Bell and wet your whistle with a cool brew. Then explore Guthrie—Oklahoma’s first capital. In town, you’ll find museums dedicated to sports, banjos, frontier drugs, trains, automobiles and the Oklahoma Territory.
Readers’ Choice: Guthrie, OK
These days, more people probably associate Pendleton with its woolen mills and don’t remember that cowboys and Indians came together here in 1909 to launch the first Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon, events that are still going strong in this northeast Oregon town. World-class riders have eaten dirt at the round-up grounds. While in town, tour the Pendleton Underground, once home to Chinese laborers and part of the red light district that is now a National Historic District.
Readers’ Choice: Vale, OR
Although it has quite the reputation, Deadwood today simply does not hold a candle to the rough-and-tumble image portrayed on HBO. Nevertheless, you’ll find the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, as well as dozens of saloons, including a replica of the Old Number 10 where you can cast your lot at the poker table. Reincarnated as a gambling hell, Deadwood perches in a narrow canyon and offers varied games of chance, meals and libations.
Readers’ Choice: Deadwood, SD
TX: Fort Worth
Does Fort Worth ever cross your mind? Well, it should. As one newspaper editor put it, “Fort Worth is where the West begins, and Dallas is where the East peters out.” Nothing against Big D, but Fort Worth still calls itself “Cowtown.” Hell’s Half Acre may be paved over and cattle drives history (except during Chisholm Trail festivals), but the revitalized downtown is one happening spot.
Readers’ Choice: Amarillo, TX
Some of the best ancient rock art in Utah is found just outside Price in Nine Mile Canyon. In town, you can see dinosaur skeletons, the largest collection of dinosaur tracks in the world and a Huntington Canyon Mammoth, plus Fremont and Ute Indian pieces at the Museum of Eastern Utah. But what we like about Price is the fact that Butch Cassidy and members of his Wild Bunch used to spend a fair amount of time in the vicinity.
Readers’ Choice: Salt Lake City, UT
In 1892, after the Invaders had killed Nate Champion and Nick Ray at the KC Ranch and began their ride north, townspeople in Buffalo organized and counterattacked. They drove back the Invasion party to the TA Ranch, where they held them at bay for three days before federal troops intervened. Such violence wasn’t new to the Buffalo area; the Bloody Bozeman Trail passes right through town, and some of the most violent encounters between frontier troops and Northern Plains Indians took place nearby. Buffalo celebrates its diverse history at the James Gatchell Museum, and a great place to stay in town is the Occidental Hotel.
Readers’ Choice: Cody, WY
Best Western CD
Westerns by Jon Chandler
One of those rare albums that may be classified as the missing link between traditional and contemporary Cowboy music, Jon’s second release, Westerns, best shows off this Colorado musician’s deep velvet voice. Chandler delivers Western storytelling at its musical best, with heroes and just plain folk recounting their loves and losses. He’s backed up by the best in the business: Butch Hause on lead guitar; Ernie Martinez on mandolin; and Johnny Neil on fiddle. From “He was No Hero” to “Crazy Woman Creek,” Westerns is simply one of a kind.
Readers’ Choice: Songs of the Old West by Emmylou Harris
Best Alternative CD
Cowboy Cool by Royal Wade Kimes
Now a proven seller, Cowboy Cool lifted this Nashville sensation out of the saddle and into the minds of Westerners everywhere. With a hint of Marty Robbins and the strength of Johnny Cash, Royal Wade Kimes sings with a seasoned, honeyed voice, painting the West in fresh new images. Rich with wild ponies, outlaws and good guys, Spanish rhythms and Country soul, the CD includes great backup and superb production. Sung with conviction, Kimes makes you want to believe in the magic of the West all over again.
Readers’ Choice: Cowgirl’s Prayer by Emmylou Harris
Best Alternative Country Rock
This Town by Zane Lewis
An overnight sensation, Texas crooner Zane Lewis is a name you need to know. In one short year, his first CD, This Town, comprised of carefully selected, originally produced covers, has gained cult status. Attracting listeners faster than a Texas cyclone, his catchy single, “I Hate to See Her Go (But I Love to See Her Leavin’)” is rapidly climbing the Texas charts with airplay statewide.
When R.W. Hampton sings, he takes the listener back out on the prairie, around a campfire, a long, long time ago. Named WMA Male Performer of the Year in 2004, he sings originals and cowboy classics like they were meant to be heard: mellow and sincere. Texas-born and ranch raised, he knows his subject matter and continues to draw inspiration from his ranch in New Mexico where he still lives the life. With eight albums to date and numerous awards, Hampton’s a solid performer—Western music personified.
Readers’ Choice: Marty Robbins
Best Bluegrass Country
Alison Krauss and Union Station
With a singular sound that’s dominated the last decade of Country music, songstress and fiddle player Alison Krauss has brought her own version of Bluegrass to listeners around the globe. At the age of 33, Krauss has already earned 17 Grammy awards, multiple CMA Awards and numerous International Bluegrass music awards. With a voice like silk on satin, paired with the genius of her band, Union Station, it’s hard to imagine any contemporary acoustic music collection without the sensational Krauss.
Readers’ Choice: Alison Krauss and Union Station
Best Traditional Country
American original Loretta Lynn has become a legend whose music is part Gospel, Honky-tonk and Country. Wowing audiences from the Grand Ol’ Opry to the Country Music Awards, Loretta never fails to deliver what she’s famous for: a lusty voice and heartfelt melodies about what really matters. A consummate writer, she was the first to give the “wronged woman” a voice. She’s never stopped. Sentimental, sincere and straightforward, she’s easily the queen of the genre. This year, after 33 years from her first win, she won a Grammy for Best Country Album (for Van Lear Rose, her 71st album) and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals (for her duet with Jack White on “Portland, Oregon”).
Readers’ Choice: George Strait
Best Country Acoustic
Great music and great musicians endure, and Willie Nelson is no exception. In nearly 50 years of bringing his inimitable sound to fans of Country and Western music, he’s become the proverbial “legend in his own time.” His catalog boasts over 200 albums and bends genre boundaries. He performs with a variety of America’s best musicians, tours tirelessly and, at 72, he shows no signs of slowing. In 1993, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of fame, and he’s a recipient of eight Grammys, among many other awards. Hats off to the king.
Readers’ Choice: Keith Urban
A Colorado mainstay for almost 25 years, Liz Masterson won the 2000 Patsy Montana Award for the woman who most reflects the qualities idealized by the Western spirit. It’s taken us five years to catch up, but we agree: Liz Masterson is definitely a “prescription for the blues.” The ageless queen of swing is also the coordinator of the annual Arvada Center Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering since 1992. She’s also the founding force behind the Cactus Crooners, and more often than not, you can find her singing with sidekick Sean Blackburn.
Readers’ Choice: Bob Wills
Best Alternative Country Folk
With over 20 recordings in 25 years, Russell may be the unsung folk hero of our day. In addition to a series of memorable albums, especially the folk opera, The Man from God Knows Where, you’ll find his music on numerous Western CDs sung by legends like Ian Tyson. Hear him on Roots Americana radio stations or the cowboy poetry/music circuit, if you’re lucky. If new to Russell, tap in and learn why his art, though sometimes haunting and dark, is always poetic and true—the very essence of Western music.
Readers’ Choice: Tom Russell
Best High Energy Acoustic
Songwriter Mike Fleming is the founder of the smoothest trio this side of the Mississippi. He makes musical art with Dave Jackson and Paul Reynoso, all recognized virtuosos in their own right. Combining acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and sometimes fiddle, New West’s three CDs to date offer an exceptional group of songs that display musical talent and memorable lyrics. No Western music enthusiast is complete without this band’s special blend of Bluegrass and Western music.
Readers’ Choice: The New Amsterdams