Best of the West 2022: True Westerner of the Year

Riding – and Writing – for the Brand!

Phil Spangenberger

Phil was in a Wild West Show he produced at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, in Branson, Missouri. All Photos Courtesy Phil Spangenberger Unless Otherwise Noted

If you have ever spoken to Phil Spangenberger about the Old West, historical firearms, history, horses, hunting, Westerns—or almost any subject, for that matter—you will immediately realize that he loves life and all that he does. He has been True West’s firearms editor since 2003, and in that time has penned more than 200 articles and features for us. His expertise in  historical firearms and accessories, weapons, militaria, uniforms, frontier clothing and equestrian saddlery and tack is encyclopedic. He is also an expert on weapon use in Western cinema, a go-to advisor on firearms and weapons in film and television. (See column at right and Phil’s feature “Mr. Authenticity” on page 30.) 

A native of Miami, Florida, Phil grew up loving horses, history and Westerns. “I was enthralled by the real people, especially those who explored the West, rode horses, fought battles and lived early on America’s frontiers,” he recalls. “What really captured my interest was watching the Walt Disney TV series on Davy Crockett (and the later technicolor movie) with Fess Parker—who about 40 years later I got to meet and spend a little time with.” 

After his family moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1957, Phil graduated from high school and was drafted into the Army in October 1963. He served two years in the 6th Battalion, 27th Artillery. After his service he bought his first horse and “joined a group of like-minded historians called the ‘Military Memorial Regiment’—reenactors who wore the uniforms, rode horses, shot the old guns and learned the drills and skills of the 1870s 7th U.S. Cavalry and the Civil War-era First North Carolina Cavalry, C.S.A.” 

By the early 1970s, Phil began writing about historical firearms. Through encouragement and a recommendation from his mentor, Garry James, Phil was hired in 1973 by Guns & Ammo magazine, a publication he would be associated with for four decades, including 35 years as the black powder editor.

 

For a 1979 article in Guns & Ammo, Phil reenacted a cavalryman firing an 1873 Springfield trapdoor carbine .45-70 from his horse Jeb Stuart. Courtesy “Guns & Ammo”

 

Today, after many decades in Southern California, Phil lives with his wife, Linda, in Chino Valley, Arizona. She is an accomplished equestrian, having won numerous honors, including three Women’s World Championships in the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association and one in the Single Action Shooting Society’s mounted competitions.

What does it mean to Phil to be named the True Westerner of 2022? 

“To be named the True Westerner of the Year is indeed an honor that, when I think of those names who’ve been so honored in the past, I feel quite humbled to be listed among such talents as the late Larry McMurtry, Dr. Paul Hutton and others whose accomplishments are world renowned. I think to myself, “How the heck did this ol’ horseman ever get here? I’m just doing what I love.” 

 

Spangenberger had Nevada trained to bow by the legendary horse trainer, Glenn Randall, who trained Roy Rogers’ Trigger, Gene Autry’s Champion, Rex Allen’s Koko and the Ben Hur chariot horses, among other great equines. After each wild and woolly performance of galloping and shooting, Phil would have her make a bow, and the audience loved it. He says she was a great horse that never let him down.

 

Phil was a gun coach, technical consultant, military advisor and extra on Touchstone Pictures’ Hidalgo (2004). He was put in a couple of short “eye-blinking” scenes in the Wounded Knee sequence in which he was a first sergeant in command of 150 dismounted 1890-era 7th Cavalry soldiers. He wore a greatcoat and fur cap, and carried a ’73 Springfield trapdoor carbine and 7½-inch, holstered Colt Single Action Army revolver.

 

Phil Spangenberger and Richard Ignarski, future owner of Tombstone’s Gunfighter Hall of Fame Museum, attended the 100th anniversary of the O.K. Corral shootout on Oct. 25, 1981. For more on this fateful day, read BBB’s column on page 15.

 

For many years, Phil’s love of the horse cavalry saw him recreating the skills and tactics of the 1880s U.S. Cavalry. Here Sergeant Spangenberger commands recreated “C” Troop, 6th U.S. Cavalry. He’s equipped with authentic 1880s uniform and equipment, as he sits his mount, Jeb Stuart, during a three-day field exercise at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, in 1977.

 

True to the West

Highlights of Spangenberger’s career supplying the entertainment industry

Through the years, when Phil Spangenberger was operating his Red River Frontier Outfitters company, they made and supplied gunleather, costuming, assorted props and other services to many Western (and occasionally other genre) movies and television programs. The company brought authenticity to the screen. Here are a few of the highlights:

Unforgiven: Produced all of the gunleather for the stars of this Academy Award-winning film, except Clint Eastwood’s rig. Gunbelts and holsters made for stars Gene Hackman, Richard Harris, James (Schofield Kid) Woolvett and others.

Hidalgo: Supplied circa 1890-type gunleather, custom crafted by Jake Johnson, rawhide reatas, period spurs and other personal props for star Viggo Mortensen.

American Outlaws: Created all of the 1860s- and 1870s-type holsters for star Colin Farrell’s Jesse James, the James-Younger Gang members and other cast members.

Maverick: Supplied star Mel Gibson’s period gunbelt and Cheyenne-style holster.

Riders of the Purple Sage: Custom crafted a brace of unique, early 1870s holsters and cartridge belts for star Ed Harris.

Tombstone: Produced the gunleather worn by the Mexican Rurales in the opening church wedding massacre scenes.

Wyatt Earp: Made nearly all of the historical gunleather used in the film by Kevin Costner, Martin Kove and others. Also supplied assorted costuming and several leather prop items.

Geronimo: An American Legend: Produced leather cavalry cartridge boxes and assorted military equipment for the movie’s troopers.

Tall Tale: Created most of the gunleather used in this fantasy-Western movie, including the double gun rig used by star Patrick Swayze.

Pale Rider: Made most of the 1860s-era gunleather for star Clint Eastwood and many of the actors in this Western.

Barbarosa: Crafted and aged special gunleather for Willie Nelson, Gary Busey and other actors.

Four Eyes and Six-Guns: Created special holsters and gunbelts for star Judge Reinhold in this TNT movie.

Rambo: First Blood Part II: Supplied actor Martin Kove with special shoulder holster for his S&W Model 29, .44 Magnum revolver.

El Diablo: Created and specially aged down period gunleather for stars Louis Gossett, Jr. and Anthony Edwards.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: Made special black, 1860s-style holster for Johnny Cash.

History Channel: On such shows as the Wild West Tech series, and programs like Conquerors, Texas Rangers, Comanche Warriors, The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth, and more, Spangenberger worked in coordination with Hollywood Guns & Props, and assisted in supplying horses, reenactors and select period artifacts.

Universal Studios Tours: Custom made frontier-era costuming for Western live stunt shows at Universal Studios tour.

Movie Sound Effects: Fired live ammunition from an assortment of antique and modern weaponry for Rambo: First Blood Part II, Hoffa, Dick Tracy, The Sicilian, Geronimo: An American Legend and others.

Video Games: Assisted in firing an array of World War II pistols, rifles and full auto machine guns to be used as sound effects for the video games Medal of Honor and Allied Assault.

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