Best of the West 2016: Art & Collectibles

World Champion Steer Roper Texas dubbed Jack Miles a world champion steer roper, and a photograph captured of him after roping a steer in 48 seconds sold as the top-selling historical cowboy photo lot for a $5,000 bid. It was part of a lot of seven cabinet cards by San Angelo’s pioneer photographer McArthur Cullen Ragsdale. – Courtesy Heritage Auctions, March 14, 2015 –
World Champion Steer Roper
Texas dubbed Jack Miles a world champion steer roper, and a photograph captured of him after roping a steer in 48 seconds sold as the top-selling historical cowboy photo lot for a $5,000 bid. It was part of a lot of seven cabinet cards by San Angelo’s pioneer photographer McArthur Cullen Ragsdale.
– Courtesy Heritage Auctions, March 14, 2015 –

“Now began the real work….Rawhide ‘riatas’ were taken down, and a man rode into the bunch swinging the loop round his head like clockwork. All at once he let it go, carelessly it seemed, so sudden was it; a quick turn or two round the horn of his Spanish saddle, and the horse wheeled and came trotting up to the fire, a stout calf bounding like a rubber ball at the end of the rope…. The air is filled with dust, smoke and the odor of burnt hair and flesh, while the bawling of the calves and their distracted mothers adds to the scene. It seems the greatest confusion, but is in reality perfect order.”

James Cox wrote those words, in the Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry and the Cattlemen. Born April 22, 1866, and the son of San Angelo, Texas, pioneer Jonathan Miles, Jack Wollard Miles was frequently one of those cowboys whose faces were “streaked with perspiration, dust and blood.” But he had also gained fame for his roping skills. A photo showing Jack after roping a steer in 48 seconds sold as the top-selling historical cowboy photo lot, one of seven cabinet cards, for a $5,000 bid,  at Heritage Auctions, on March 14, 2015.

We know the photo was taken by 1894, as it was published in Cox’s book. It could have been taken around the time when Jack became the world champion steer roper, tying down a longhorn in 40 and 1.5th seconds, a title he held for six years.

The man behind the camera was McArthur Cullen Ragsdale, who had landed in Texas through the port of Galveston after the Civil War, along with hundreds of photographers. At the age of 21, Ragsdale took up photography to finance his college education. He ended up dropping out of school. He opened a shop near Fort Concho in 1875 on a trail that later became Chadbourne Street in San Angelo. His “Views of Concho County” include photographs of the aftermath of the disastrous 1882 flood in nearby Ben Ficklin. Jack’s father gave the homeless families lots in San Angelo.

The Fort Concho Museum preserves some 2,500 of Ragsdale’s prints. Interestingly, both his famous subject, Jack Miles, and the photographer himself died in 1944, at the ages of 78 and 95 respectively. Along with Jack, other hardy cowboys resurfaced in outstanding historical photographs sold at auctions throughout 2015.

 

Best Western Art Collection
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, TX
In a year devoted to wildlife and hunting, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon featured an impressive art collection. The museum was the only Texas venue to exhibit “George Catlin’s American Buffalo,” presenting paintings Catlin created from 1832 to 1839 that depicted Plains Indian buffalo hunts. That history was updated to include late 19th-century buffalo hunters who slaughtered the beasts for their hides, portrayed in a 1956 mural by Harold Dow Bugbee, a former curator of the museum. Philip R. Goodwin’s paintings put visitors inside early 1900s hunting scenes. Whether for sustenance or greed, the hunts that turned a frontier into civilized land earned a masterful presence in this grand museum.

Readers’ Choice: Stark Museum of Art, Orange, TX

 

Best American Indian Collection
Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY
Nobody has described the Plains Indian Museum better than Crow tribal historian Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, who called it a “living, breathing place where more than just Indian objects are on display.” The objects are impressive enough—Red Cloud’s shirt; Ghost Dance clothing; pre-1890s artifacts collected by Paul Dyck; Indian jewelry, beadwork and silver pieces. The cultivation of Indian culture sets this museum apart—teaching museum practices to students at the St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana; a family fun day celebrating Plains Indians; and, every June, a spectacular powwow featuring dancers of all ages from all over North America.

Readers’ Choice: Amerind Museum, Dragoon, AZ

 

Best Pioneer History Collection
Harold Warp Pioneer Village, Minden, NE
“Discover Wonder Around Every Turn” is how the Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska, advertises itself, and the slogan hits the mark. Six million visitors have already toured the nation’s only museum of progress that reveals how America grew. With 50,000 pieces of Americana in 26 buildings on 20 acres, the pioneer town teaches visitors about the 1862 Homestead Act, the Indian Wars, the Pony Express, railroad development and much more. The village green also features a historic car collection that starts with an 1897 steam car. Founded by Harold Warp in 1953, the same year as our magazine, this pioneer village offers a journey through history you will never forget.

Readers’ Choice: Boot Hill Museum, Dodge City, KS

 

Best Old West Collectibles Auction
High Noon Auction, Mesa, AZ
For the 25th anniversary auction last year, High Noon gained a new partner in the auction arena—Brian Lebel, whose Old West Auction celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2014. The collaboration has helped solidify both auctions as leaders in the Old West collectibles market. Last year’s High Noon auction gave collectors the opportunity to bid on a Winchester Model 1894 that Tom Horn carried when he was arrested for killing Willie Nickell; a letter by famed cowboy artist Charlie Russell to silent film star Harry Carey Sr.; and weapons reportedly carried by Wild Bunch Gang member Matt Warner during an 1889 bank robbery. We are looking forward to what this year’s auction will bring.

Readers’ Choice: Heritage Auctions, Dallas, TX

 

Best Western Collectibles Gallery
Cowboy Legacy Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ
On Main Street, conveniently located right around the corner from Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Arizona shoppers and visitors from around the world can feast their eyes on artifacts of the 1840s through the 1940s. Since 1966, owner Bill Welch has specialized in high-end chaps and spurs, and he lends his expertise not only on those acquisitions, but also on collectible saddles, bows and arrows, and gambling gear. This gallery is the best place in the West for you to browse and purchase museum-quality memorabilia that capture the essence of the Old West.

Readers’ Choice: Don King’s Museum and Saddlery, Sheridan, WY

 

Best Old West Firearms Auction
Rock Island Auction Company, Rock Island, IL
A gold-plated Colt Single Action Army owned by actor Roy Rogers, the “King of the Cowboys,” was one of the major sales by Rock Island in 2015. Collectors of Old West firearms are lucky to have two amazing auction houses to participate in when adding to their collections. Those looking to purchase high-end, and thus more expensive, firearms frequently turn to James D. Julia. Those looking for the greatest number of historical firearms, that are also affordable, seek out Rock Island Auction Company. The company’s larger offerings allow for more opportunities to purchase guns tied to the Old West era, which is why we honor Rock Island as our Best of the West this year.

Readers’ Choice: Cowan’s Auctions, Cincinnati, OH

 

Best Treasure Hunting Device
AT Pro Metal Detector by Garrett Metal Detectors, Garland, TX
On April 3, 2015, founder Dr. Charles L. Garrett met his maker. A graduate of Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, Garrett began his garage business in 1964. He and wife Eleanor grew it into the worldwide leader in metal detection technology, largely by making the metal detectors so easy to use for newcomers to the sport of treasure hunting. Garrett was a lifelong treasure hunter himself, scanning under lakes, seas and oceans on every continent except Antarctica. Our pick for the best is the AT Pro—an all-terrain detector that enables treasure hunters to search for relics beneath an abandoned ghost town, prospect for gold in streams and hunt for caches all over the world.

Readers’ Choice: White’s Metal Detectors, Sweet Home, OR

 

Best Western Painter
Andy Thomas
Documenting the historical West in artworks is a difficult endeavor that requires not only fine art talent, but also keen historical research, grounded in authentic documentation and artifacts. Working with Andy Thomas on our new column, Survival Out West, in 2015 revealed to us just how deep his historical research into his subjects goes. He deftly transforms written history into realistic and emotionally resonant paintings that forever imprint a narrative into a viewer’s mind. We were honored to work with this incredible artist, and we know he will offer the world even more amazing artworks in the years to come. Nobody creates historical art better than Andy Thomas.

Readers’ Choice: Sherry Blanchard Stuart

 

Best Western Museum
Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Scottsdale, AZ
The men and women behind this impressive Arizona museum located in Scottsdale’s Old Town have kept the buzz strong throughout its entire first year, which promises for a spectacular future in presenting the culture and heritage of the American West. We tip our hat off to Tim Peterson and family for helping to make this first year an impressive offering of history. His exhibited collection ranged from Lewis and Clark paintings by the exceptionally talented Charles Fritz to frontiersman Kit Carson’s flintlock pistol to mountain men art and Charles Russell and Frederic Remington originals. We’re excited to discover what exhibits 2016 will bring.

Readers’ Choice: Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, GA

 

Best Western Art Gallery
Whitney Western Art at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY
The Whitney exhibits works by some of the most famous Old West artists, including Alfred Jacob Miller, Thomas Moran, Joseph Henry Sharp, Edgar Samuel Paxon and many more. Curators have taken this art to the next level: helping visitors learn about art techniques through replicas of Frederic Remington’s and Alexander Phimister Proctor’s studios, and encouraging the next generation of Old West history artists through on-site kiosks and an off-site “history canvas” website that allow you to create your own artworks. The museum’s ongoing effort to electronically catalogue every Frederic Remington artwork demonstrates the staff’s earnest desire to show the world the importance of Western art.

Readers’ Choice: C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, MT

 

Best Cowboy Art Restoration
Sughrue Cowboy Statue, Dodge City, KS
The “oldest cowboy” in Dodge City, Kansas, may have sat in grave disrepair, but residents of this quintessential Old West cowtown were not going to let their cement cowboy rot. Public donations, grants and city tourism funds brought him back to his original glory, and the restored statue was unveiled in the summer of 2015, just in time for Dodge City Days. Dentist Oscar H. Simpson sculpted the 2,000-pound, nearly eight-foot-tall statue in 1927 as a monument to the cowboy, unveiling it during a pioneer celebration two years later. Dodge City lawman and real-life cowboy Joe Sughrue served as his model. Now Dodge City’s “oldest cowboy” looks good as new.

Readers’ Choice: Tex Randall Statue, Canyon, TX

 

Best Western Art Collector
Kenneth “Bud” Adams
The late owner of the Tennessee Titans threw a touchdown pass to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in September 2015. He donated his Western art and cowboy and Indian collectibles collection, marking the multi-million dollar gift as one of the largest in the Indianapolis museum’s 26-year history. The Adams donation allows the public to view even more significant paintings by Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Thomas Moran and other notable Western artists, as well as hundreds of Plains Indian beadwork, clothing and objects. A native of Oklahoma, Adams was an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. His appreciation for Western heritage will leave a lifelong impact on future generations. A major exhibit of the Adams collection is due out in November 2016.

 

Best Western History Collector
Phil Collins
Write your first book, sharing your appreciation of the Battle of the Alamo and your journey collecting its relics and documents. Check. Donate more than 200 Alamo items worth some $15 million to the Alamo. Check. Earn the honorary Texan honor from the state legislature. Check. Set wheels in motion for an Alamo endowment that will publicly exhibit your donated collection. Check. The worldwide famous solo artist and former lead singer for Genesis has sung a love song to the Alamo that promises to enlarge everyone’s understanding of the pivotal 1836 battle for Texas independence. Nobody has helped the world “remember the Alamo” today better than Phil Collins.

 

Born in 1885, Wild West show trick roper Bee Ho Gray taught Will Rogers an innovative rope catch that had earned Gray a world champion title. Rogers performed the trick, catching a galloping horse and rider with three ropes, in 1922’s The Ropin’ Fool. Gray is flanked by two Indians in this photo that sold for a $600 bid on July 13, 2015, at Cowan’s Auctions.
Born in 1885, Wild West show trick roper Bee Ho Gray taught Will Rogers an innovative rope catch that had earned Gray a world champion title. Rogers performed the trick, catching a galloping horse and rider with three ropes, in 1922’s The Ropin’ Fool. Gray is flanked by two Indians in this photo that sold for a $600 bid on July 13, 2015, at Cowan’s Auctions.

 

Pitchfork Ranch Cowboys Born in San Francisco, California, in 1887, Charles Belden worked as a cowboy on the Pitchfork Ranch, founded in 1878, west of Meeteetse, Wyoming. His 1920s-40s photographs of ranch life were widely published in The Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic and Life. Cowan’s Auctions sold these three Belden photographs of ranch hands herding sheep and cattle.
Pitchfork Ranch Cowboys
Born in San Francisco, California, in 1887, Charles Belden worked as a cowboy on the Pitchfork Ranch, founded in 1878, west of Meeteetse, Wyoming. His 1920s-40s photographs of ranch life were widely published in The Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic and Life. Cowan’s Auctions sold three Belden photographs of ranch hands herding sheep and cattle.

 

Pitching Bronco W.G. Walker became famous for taking photographs of scout and assassin Tom Horn in his jail cell in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but he mainly captured images of Wyoming cowboys, like this one on his pitching bronco; sold in a collection of 25 photographs for an $1,800 bid at Cowan’s Auctions on June 12, 2015.
Pitching Bronco
W.G. Walker became famous for taking photographs of scout and assassin Tom Horn in his jail cell in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but he mainly captured images of Wyoming cowboys, like this one on his pitching bronco; sold in a collection of 25 photographs for an $1,800 bid at Cowan’s Auctions on June 12, 2015.

If you want to see all of The 100 Best Historical Photos of the American Cowboy, buy our January 2016 issue here!

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