A century and a half ago Texas was rebuilding after the Civil War. Veterans were returning home to the Lone Star State—and thousands of soldiers, North and South, were moving West, many to Texas, looking to start life anew after the horrors of war. The broad, brush country of Texas was awash in wild longhorns and horses, while railroads were pushing West from Missouri into Kansas. Beef had become big business during the war, and the growing industrial cities of the North needed cattle for food, hides and everything but the moo! Cattlemen like George Arnett, Jesse Chisholm, Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving, Abel “Shanghai” Pierce, Dudley H. Snyder and C.C. Slaughter would help build an industry that shaped the West—and American history—as entrepreneurs of the cattle trade from Texas to Montana. Today, True West invites readers to use the annual Heritage Travel Guide to plan your own adventures on new—and favorite—trails West.
Best Place to Live Like an Old West Cowboy (Summer)
The residents of Buffalo—an amazing community rich with history, culture and scenery—are grateful to have received this recognition. They feel truly blessed to live in so historic a town, where the Old West is kept alive today, and the Bighorn Mountains serve as their beautiful backyard.
Readers’ Choice: Cody, WY
Best Place to Live Like an Old West Cowboy (Winter)
Wickenburg’s past merges with the present to awaken the cowboy in everyone. Consider a day at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, a performance at The Webb Center, a walking tour of downtown, trail-riding by horse, jeep or mountain bike, watching team roping or simply taking in a Western sunset.
Readers’ Choice: Bandera, TX
Best Old West Gunfighter Town
Discover legendary Tombstone, known internationally for its stormy and storied past, where walking the streets of Wyatt Earp and “Doc” Holliday and the infamous Gunfight Near the OK Corral is a unique step back into the Old West—a true encounter with history in “The Town Too Tough to Die.”
Readers’ Choice: Dodge City, KS
Best Western Museum
Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Scottsdale, AZ
Redefining the Western art museum, the new Museum of the West also boasts a massive collection of cowboy gear and 100 “True West Moments” by Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell. A recent visitor entered one morning at opening and had to be kicked out at closing time—that’s how cool the place is.
Readers’ Choice: Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, GA
Best Movie Museum
John Wayne Birthplace Museum, Winterset, IA
Historic Madison County is where John Wayne’s story begins—and continues! His modest four-room home, restored to reflect the time of his birth, is open for tours. Adjacent are the brand-new theater and John Wayne Birthplace Museum displaying an astounding collection of artifacts and memorabilia from the film legend’s career.
Readers’ Choice: The Museum of Western Film History, Lone Pine, CA
Best Preserved Pioneer Town
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (Pioneer Town), Grand Island, NE
A hands-on living history experience tells the story of early town-building in Nebraska. For forty-plus years, the world-class educational center and outdoor living history museum, called a “crossroads in time,” has given visitors an authentic glimpse of early prairie town life, while preserving and portraying the pioneers’ inspiring stories.
Readers’ Choice: Dodge City, KS
Best Preserved Historic Trail
The Chisholm Trail
The Chisholm Trail was established in 1867 with the first cattle drive to Abilene, Kansas. During the next 18 years, 5 million head of cattle were driven along it from Texas to Kansas. The trail had a great economic impact on the country, and served as backdrop to many Old West legends.
Readers’ Choice: The Oregon Trail
Best Old West
A mecca of the testosterone-driven Western artwork that Santa Fe has abandoned, Old Town Scottsdale boasts galleries and a new Museum of the West, returning to its roots as the place to see the best in Western art, bar none. And visit Guidon Books for the best books on Western art.
Readers’ Choice: Cody, WY
Best Town for Historic Entertainment
We recently got wind that two people were wounded in Tombstone because someone brought a loaded gun to a staged gunfight. So, how could we not recognize Tombstone as the best place for old-time entertainment with that kind of commitment going on? We love that damn town in all its demented glory!
Readers’ Choice: Buffalo, WY
Best Architecturally Preserved Western Town
No gas stations, convenience stores or modern businesses ruin the Old West vibe of Lincoln, which dodged the progress bullet and remains cocooned in sleepy authenticity. The courthouse where Billy the Kid made his escape still stands in its massive glory and every building along the snaky street is historic.
Readers’ Choice: Deadwood, SD
Former Texas Ranger Thomas Saltus Lubbock’s namesake city became incorporated in 1909, and soon rail service made it the “Hub of the Plains.” Texas Tech University began in 1925, and two military bases opened during World War II. Today, visitors enjoy art, outdoor music, festivals and all manner of Western fun.
Readers’ Choice: Amarillo, TX
Trail of Fame, Dodge City, KS
Sidewalk medallions and statues along Dodge City’s Trail of Fame commemorate the city’s famous and infamous denizens—and the actors who have portrayed them. Some celebrities have signed and left handprints in the concrete near their medallions. Pick up a map for the free walking tour at the information center.
Readers’ Choice: Historic Trolley Tour, Guthrie, OK
Best Promotion of a Historic Place
Las Vegas, NM
Once the first major stop on the Santa Fe Trail en route to the Wild West, Las Vegas, New Mexico, remains much the same today. Visitors can easily let their imaginations wander back more than 100 years to immerse themselves in the 900 stories its buildings on the National Historic Register tell.
Readers’ Choice: Dodge City, KS
Best Old West Town
to Live in
Mile-high Prescott was the original Territorial capital of Arizona and is rich in Western history with a walkable historic downtown. It’s the home of the World’s Oldest Rodeo, and the surroundings—1.25 million acres of Prescott National Forest, four lakes and 450 miles of trails—make it an outdoor recreation paradise.
Readers’ Choice: Tombstone, AZ
Best Historic Cemetery in
Concordia Cemetery, El Paso, TX
Here lies notorious gunslinger John Wesley Hardin (“I never killed anyone who didn’t need killing”) and 60,000 souls—Buffalo Soldiers, Texas Rangers, Civil War veterans, early Mormon pioneers and local legends. Hardin was shot down while standing at the bar of the local Acme Saloon in 1895.
Readers’ Choice: Boot Hill Cemetery, Dodge City, KS
Best Preserved Historic Fort of the West
Bents’ Fort, CO
Bents’ Old Fort National Historic Site on the Santa Fe Trail was originally built as a fur-trading post in 1833-34 by brothers Charles and William Bent with Ceran St. Vrain. Today, the reconstructed fort draws visitors to enjoy living history activities and to hear National Park staffers and re-enactors tell its 150-year-old stories.
Readers’ Choice: Fort Laramie, WY
Best Historic Railroad of the West
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango, CO
The historic railroad has been in continuous operation since 1881, as its coal-fired, steam-powered trains carry passengers year-round through the majestic mountains of San Juan National Forest. The vintage 1923-25 locomotives used to pull today’s train remain 100 percent coal-fired, steam-operated, and are maintained in their original condition.
Readers’ Choice: Cumbres & Toltec, Chama, NM
Best Historic Railroad Event
True West Railfest, Durango, CO
Join the fun—food, music and all things rail—as Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and True West Magazine bring you True West Railfest, a celebration of Colorado railroading and the Western lifestyle.
Readers’ Choice: Georgetown Loop RR, Georgetown, CO (Christmas Train)
Best “Who Slept Here?” Hotel
The Irma Hotel, Cody, WY
Buffalo Bill Cody called the Irma Hotel “a gem” just outside of Yellowstone National Park. He built the place in 1902 and named it for his daughter. Today, guests can stay in modern accommodations or in historic rooms enjoyed by Frederic Remington, Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane or Bill Cody, himself.
Readers’ Choice: Hotel Colorado, CO
Best Heritage Hotel
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, NM
Frenchman Henri Lambert, whose life became intertwined with the people of a place later known as the Village of Cimarron, NM, built the original St. James Hotel. Its location along the Santa Fe Trail, and its fine food and atmosphere attracted colorful Old West characters—from lawmen to outlaws and everyone in between.
Readers’ Choice: The Strater Hotel, Durango, CO
Best Bed and Breakfast
Boot Hill Bed and Breakfast, Dodge City, KS
A decade later, the owners of Boot Hill Bed and Breakfast still love innkeeping, and remain committed to offering clean rooms plus great food, amenities and hospitality. In turn, their guests have become “extended family,” for whom they run the inn with care, because, they say, “that is the right way to operate it.”
Readers’ Choice: Ferris Mansion, Rawlins, WY
Best Historic Saloon of the West
The Palace Saloon, Prescott, AZ
The Palace, which opened its doors in 1877, is the oldest frontier saloon in Arizona. In 1996 it made USA Today’s list of the 10 most historic bars in the country. Today, the completely restored saloon serves up steaks, seafood, salads and sandwiches—and the friendliest service in town.
Readers’ Choice: Occidental Saloon, Buffalo, WY
Best Historic Restaurant
The Buckhorn Exchange, Denver, CO
Buckhorn Exchange, which holds Colorado’s first liquor license, opened in 1893. Back then, railroad workers scrambled every Friday to exchange their paychecks for gold and a token for a free lunch and a beer, which guaranteed the restaurant’s success. After all, whoever heard of a railroad man stopping after only one beer?
Readers’ Choice: Long Branch Saloon, Dodge City, KS
Best Old West Event
Fur Trade Symposium at Bents’ Old Fort in La Junta, CO (returned in 2015, after a 27-year hiatus)
The 2015 Fur Trade Symposium returned to the Southern Rockies for the first time since 1988. The conference attracts scholars, fur trade re-enactors and enthusiasts, students, teachers, and anyone interested in the history of the fur trade, the growth of the nation and the cultural interactions of the era.
Readers’ Choice: Tom Mix Festival & Western Heritage Weekend, Dewey, OK
Best Ranch Rodeo
WRCA World Championship, Amarillo, TX (celebrated 20 years in 2015)
The WRCA World Championship Rodeo celebrated its 20th year in 2015. Real working ranch cowboys and ranchers gather for the exciting events in tough competition for the title.
Readers’ Choice: Winnemucca Ranch Rodeo, Winnemucca, NV
Best Chuck Wagon Cook-off
Grand Encampment Cowboy Gathering, Encampment, WY
Folks gather to enjoy music, Cowboy Church, dancing, food, tours of historic buildings, cooking demonstrations, stick-horse rodeo, cowboy poetry, and more with the goal of promoting and preserving the Western way of life.
Readers’ Choice: Cheyenne Frontier Days, Cheyenne, WY
Best Chuck Wagon Show & Supper
National Cowboy Symposium, Lubbock, TX
The cowboy fun celebrating our Western heritage includes entertainment, poetry and storytelling, Western writers and authors, panels, film and movie seminars, a Youth Wild West Day, horse-handling demonstrations, a horse-themed parade, Native American Indian activities and presentations, the ever-popular Chuck Wagon Cookoff, and exhibits of Western artworks and merchandise.
Readers’ Choice: Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, Ruidoso, NM
White Stallion Ranch, Tucson, AZ
The White Stallion Guest Ranch outside of Tucson, AZ, oozes Old West charm and character with authentic food and individual casitas, and an old-style lodge. Horseback riding still reins (ahem) supreme and the saguaro-studded trails on the property, where several Western movies were filmed, alone are worth the price.
Readers’ Choice: Flying E Ranch, Wickenburg, AZ
Best Cowboy Poetry Gathering
National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, NV
For three decades running, the international National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and cultural festival has celebrated the poetry, music and traditional arts of the American West. The 32nd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, January 25-30, 2016, in Elko, NV, spotlights the flowing grasslands, vast open spaces and indigo skies of the Northern Plains.
Readers’ Choice: National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration, Lubbock, TX
Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering & Western Swing Festival
The gathering, celebrating 25 years, features a weekend of great events, including a wagon train and trail ride from Jacksboro, trappings show, cowboy poetry, cowboy music, a youth poetry contest, youth fiddle competition, youth chuck wagon cook-off, Texas Trail of Fame, Cowboy Church, cowboy gospel concert and Western swing dances.
Readers’ Choice: Heber Valley Western Music & Cowboy Gathering
Best Old West
Battle of Little Big Horn Re-enactment
Near Gary Owen, MT, on the Crow Reservation, the Real Bird Family hosts a re-enactment of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. On June 24-26, watch Native braves and Cavalry troopers crash through the river, and battle along its banks, where some believe Custer was killed.
Readers’ Choice: Defeat of Jesse James Days, Northfield, MN
Best Old West
Prescott Regulators & Their Shady Ladies, Prescott, AZ
Members of the Prescott Regulators & Their Shady Ladies, Inc., an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, are the “Official Old West Ambassadors” of historic Prescott. They host the annual Shootout on Whiskey Row, participate in re-enactment events and parades throughout Arizona, donating all profits to locally based charities.
Readers’ Choice: TIE: The Nevada Gunfighters & Six Guns & Shady Ladies, El Paso, TX
Best Wild West Show
Dr. Buck’s Wild Western Festival, Glendale, AZ
This festival keeps America’s Western heritage alive with its unique “History Meets Hollywood” theme. Guests are entertained and educated as they enjoy a roundup of performers and artisans. Experience the sights and sounds of the Wild West, and see why the event has been called a “Wild West Renaissance Festival.”
Readers’ Choice: Cheyenne Frontier Days
Pendleton Round-Up, Pendelton, OR
The Pendleton Round-Up began in1910, and the rodeo today—still held in the same location with no in-arena advertising—continues as the “epic drama of the West” with its wooden chutes and unique, timed run-down alley. The roundup earned designation as a Heritage Culture Event from the state of Oregon.
Readers’ Choice: The World’s Oldest Rodeo, Prescott, AZ
Best Treasure- Hunting Device
Garrett Metal Detectors
In 2014, Garrett celebrated its 50th year in business as a supplier of hobby metal detectors, security tags, handheld security detectors, walk-through detector gates, along with pro-pointers and a comprehensive range of metal detectors for treasure-hunters.
If you want to see all of The 100 Best Historical Photos of the American Cowboy, buy our January 2016 issue here!