An Angel and the Train Man Jana Bommersbach shares her favorite Old West Saviors from her 10-year journey.

Old West Saviors Train True West
Jana’s favorite saviors range from train aficionado Jim Clark (far left) to Fort Stanton’s Angel Lynda Sánchez (left, shown assessing the condition of the 1855 stables).
— Clark photo Courtesy Northern Nevada Railway Foundation; Sánchez photo By Jean Fulton —

Along with True West’s 65th birthday, this column celebrates a landmark too—my 10th anniversary of exploring the people and groups who are saving pieces of the Old West.

When I began writing this column in 2007, I was admitted to a wonderful new world I didn’t know existed—the hundreds of people throughout the nation whose hearts and souls are dedicated to preserving our history and honoring our heritage. How great to interview people who keep the faith when the odds are stacked against them; who won’t let anyone tell them, “No;” who face setbacks and never let anything set them back—just like the American Indian, Mexican, Mormon and white pioneers they celebrate.

Writing this column has been one of the most joyful experiences of my career. It didn’t hurt, of course, that my first column began with such a winner.

FORT STANTON’S ANGEL: “The ‘Savior of Fort Stanton’ was too modest to claim that title for herself, but anyone who has watched the reversal of fortune at one of the West’s most enduring forts knows that Lynda Sánchez deserves it…. ‘We aren’t going to have much of the West left if we don’t draw a line in the sand…. This is where I drew the line.’” (August 2007)

The fantastic people and stories continued, with these topping my list:

CROOKEDEST RAILROAD TURNS NEW BEND: “Model railroads didn’t do a thing for Jim Clark when he was a kid growing up in Milwaukee and California in the 1940s and 1950s, but the real thing blew his whistle.” (March 2008)

HOOP DANCE DYNASTY: “Thanks to the pull of love, one of today’s most acclaimed hoop dancing families in the nation helped to revive the native dance that had all but died by the 1980s…. Ken and Doreen Duncan of Mesa, Arizona, now have children who hold a fistful of world championships in the art that uses from one to 50 hoops in a most athletic dance.” (February 2012)

THE LAST BONANZA FARM: “Perhaps the greatest example in the Old West of making lemonade out of lemons is what happened in Dakota Territory in the 1870s.” The birth of these “Bonanza Farms”  is epitomized by the Frederick A. Bagg farm, a National Historic Landmark designation. (March 2014)

THE BURDEN BASKET STRUGGLE: “Just 81 words tell the story—but they’re powerful enough to represent the struggle and courage of the Yavapai-Apache people of Arizona’s Verde Valley.” These words inspired a lasting monument to commemorate the exodus. (January 2015)

SAVING A PIECE OF TRUE WEST: “More than 30 years passed before four citizen groups and multiple city councils saved a ‘precious jewel in Austin’s crown’….  While they were at it, they saved a jewel in the crown of True West Magazine.” That precious jewel was the home where our founding editor, Joe Austell Small, operated this magazine. (September 2015)

IDAHO’S MORMON MIRACLES: “When the people of Preston, Idaho, decided to save the Oneida Stake Academy, they weren’t just preserving a magnificent historic building. They were honoring a little-known time in Mormon history—a time of determination and defiance.” (March 2017)

If I’m lucky, this magazine will let me keep discovering fabulous people like these.  Happy Anniversary to us all!

Jana Bommersbach has earned recognition as Arizona’s Journalist of the Year and won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She cowrote the Emmy-winning Outrageous Arizona and has written two true crime books, a children’s book and the historical novel Cattle Kate.

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