Love Them All
Pick my favorite column of 2023? No way.
I am supposed to write about my favorite Old West Savior of 2023. The problem is, I don’t have a favorite column from last year—I loved every one.
I loved every determined, stubborn, sock-it-to-me fearlessness that revealed again and again, American Strong stories. I loved every one of the folks taking chances and putting it all on the line because they knew their piece of our American legacy needed them. That’s the joy of this column.
Joy like Arizona’s Frances Willard Munds, the fierce teacher who got women the right to vote in the brand new 48th state in 1912. This was after Territorial women had spent decades trying to get the legislature to recognize that “women struggled as anxiously as men in building the state.”
My February-March column detailed a statue of Frances sponsored by the Arizona Women’s History Alliance—it would be the first statute of an individual woman at the statehouse plaza. Boy, does she deserve that honor!
In April, I got to revisit one of the favorite spots in my original home state of North Dakota: the Chateau de Mores in Medora. Not only is this “hunting lodge” worth a tour, but any visit to Medora is exciting.
In May I learned tons about ranching from the Ranching Museum in Lubbock, Texas. And, boy, are these folks proud of the incredible history they’re showcasing.
In June I met Kenneth Thomasma of Wyoming, who has written dozens of books about American Indian children. I was gifted one of them—Naya Nuki—and that led me to track him down for the whole story.
The July-August issue took me inside Tombstone’s St. Paul’s, the oldest Prot-estant Church in Arizona. I don’t know what im-
pressed me more—the beautiful and beloved church building or its creative and enthusiastic female pastor, The Rev. Heather Rose.
In September, I profiled the newest variation on Montana’s oldest Dude Ranch—the O.T.O. Ranch (1898-1939). It’s finding new life as a “pop-up dude ranch.” Check it out!
In October, I told about the “Oldest Old West Savior”: Arizona’s San Xavier del Bac. If you have no other reason to visit Arizona, going to view this over-200-year-old Catholic mission is reason enough.
In November I found two women who have turned an abandoned North Dakota school into a fabric art center—and brought new life to a tiny town.
And in December, the Trinidad, Colorado Fox Theatre caught my eye—and showed that this is a city determined to save its heritage.
So now I’m on the search for another year of columns about folks who are America’s historical patriots!
Best Preservation of a Historic Western Building
Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site, Laramie, WY
Built in 1872, the Wyoming Territorial Prison held the West’s most violent and desperate outlaws (including the notorious Butch Cassidy) during the dramatic time of Wyoming’s federal Territorial days and early statehood. The Wyoming prison is now a museum, and includes an exhibit on Cassidy. Visitors can tour the warden’s quarters, the horse barn, prison industries broom factory, visitor center, historic buildings, as well as picnic and enjoy a nature trail.
Fort Smith National Historic Site, Fort Smith, AR
Best Preserved Historic Trail
Santa Fe National Historic Trail,
MO, KS, OK, CO, NM
The international highway between the United States and the state of Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico changed North American history and began American citizens’ settlement in the far Southwest. Today, travelers can enjoy revisiting the historic highway from western Missouri to New Mexico, with trail markers, civic centers, main streets, museums and historic sites marking the way for exploration and education about the trail’s significance.
Pony Express National Historic Trail, MO, KS, NE, CO, WY, UT, NV, CA
Best Preservation Effort of the West
Fox West Theatre, Trinidad, CO
Since 1908, the Fox West has been a major landmark in Trinidad. It’s one of its tallest buildings, the only second-story balcony in the whole area and has seating for 650. Originally, the theater was flanked by a saloon on one side and a drug store on the other. “Modernization” converted it from a performing stage to a movie house in 1929. In 2018, the city bought it and has recently reopened the first stages of the preservation of Trinidad’s oldest and favorite theater.
San Xavier del Bac, Tucson, AZ
Best Historic Cemetery of the West
Concordia Cemetery, El Paso, TX
El Paso’s historic Concordia Cemetery is home to 60,000 beloved—and not so beloved—souls, including the notorious gunslinger John Wesley Hardin. Walk the grounds and remember the heroes, heroines and common folk who rest eternally in Concordia—Buffalo Soldiers, Texas Rangers, Civil War veterans, early Mormon pioneers and some local legends.
Boot Hill, Dodge City, KS
Best Preserved Historic Fort of the West
Fort Concho, San Angelo, TX
For the second year in a row,
True West honors Fort Concho for its extraordinary preservation efforts and living history programs. Built in 1867 as a strategic U.S. Army outpost during the post-Civil War conflict with the Southern Plains tribes, Fort Concho served its purpose effectively until it was closed in 1889. The city of San Angelo handles staffing and the preservation of the historic landmark, museum and 23 fort buildings. Walk in the footsteps of soldiers and their families who lived at the fort and tour Officers Row and Quarters, the enlisted men’s barracks, post headquarters, hospital, schoolhouse and chapel. Fort Concho hosts annual living history events, including Buffalo Soldier Heritage Day in February and Fort Concho Frontier Day in April.
Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Laramie, WY
Best Architecturally Preserved Western Town
Gold and silver were found in 1860, but miners didn’t return to the Animas River Canyon to seek their fortunes until after the Civil War. In 1874, the town of Silverton was laid out and the boom was on. In 1882, the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad reached Silverton. At its height, over 2,000 called Silverton home, with more than 400 buildings, including 29 saloons. Today, historic Silverton is a popular tourist destination and the terminus of the internationally acclaimed Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.