Making History on Horseback

Re-enacting Earp’s Vendetta Ride and other great historical events.
Re-enacting Earp’s Vendetta Ride and other great historical events.

Steve Shaw makes history on horseback accessible.

“The biggest thrill for me was the ride down Allen Street,” says Dave Taylor, a Texan who participated in Steve Shaw’s 2010 Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride.

“Countless times as a child I rode my ‘mop horse’ through a pretend Tombstone, and you gave me the opportunity to do it for real … twice. It was just an incredible experience.”

Steve Shaw makes history on horseback accessible. He leads travelers on Old West trail riding trips through his company Great American Adventures. For any of these rides, you can either bring your own horse or, if you don’t have a horse or don’t want to transport him, Shaw will find you a good mount.

You can saddle up in the Tombstone, Arizona, area to ride Wyatt Earp’s trail of retribution, take on the Hole-in-the-Wall Country Butch Cassidy style in Johnson County, Wyoming, or Ride to Glory,
re-enacting the 1876 Battle of the Little Big Horn on the Crow Reservation near Hardin, Montana. If you ride with Steve, you don’t just cover historic ground; you dress the part, making the adventure truly come to life.

Rider Rob Arntzen describes how the Dragoon Mountains terrain truly contextualized history for him while joining the Wyatt Earp Vendetta Posse. “We rode to Cochise’s Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains, where the Apache Cochise hid out during his 25-year war with the United States. It’s beautiful but rough country, with oak trees and scrub, hills and canyons, and mountains made of gigantic round boulders. It’s easy to see how he could lose the cavalry up there. Could have been Indians behind every rock, but that’s another story. We went there following the path of Wyatt Earp’s posse looking for his brother’s killers.”

Expert horsemen are welcome to ride, but comfortable novices who do some riding beforehand may also join the group. Long rides like these are a great way to better your horsemanship skills, so you can become more comfortable out of a lesson ring and on the trails.

For more novice riders, Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride is a great first pick, as the terrain is rugged and quintessentially Western, a la Magnificent Seven. By riding in the footsteps of historic characters, in the same landscapes where they trod, you gain a new perspective on past events and may even uncover the truth behind some of the West’s most celebrated legends—or at least make up your own mind about the more contentious stories in Old West history. Expert historians who come along on the rides also grant travelers a new take on the past.

You do need to be able to ride to participate in the riding days on Shaw’s adventures, and it’s a good idea to get your legs in shape before your journey. But not everyone has to ride to join in on the fun. Many riding and non-riding pairs do travel together on these adventures. Those who don’t take to the trails head to town for shopping, sightseeing or hanging out in historic locales.

The riders are encouraged to wear period clothing, but you don’t have to break the bank to find these fancy duds nor do you have to wear anything uncomfortable. Though Shaw is happy to recommend a look, what you wear is up to you. Depending on the ride, Shaw can recommend places to purchase your infantry trousers to play the role of a 7th Cavalry trooper or your chaps for the Hole-in-the-Wall ride.

“When you get your 1880s ‘duds’ on and lope through the set of Tombstone or ride over the hill into Cottonwood Springs, you really believe you’re right next to Wyatt and Doc, and are ready to avenge Virgil and Morgan,” says Bill Hill, a participant from Prescott, Arizona.

Both men and women can join in on the fun, since the point of these horseback adventures is a chance to experience the history for yourself firsthand. Women may not have been on some of these trails historically, but Shaw’s outfit is an equal opportunity riding vacation.

The time and care Shaw takes to set the mood for each rider truly makes each ride a once-in-a-lifetime experience for participants. If you go on the Vendetta ride, for instance, you may saddle up for a whiskey at a Meet & Greet at the Crystal Palace Saloon in Tombstone or attain special permission to ride through the Tombstone movie set.

When you ride with Shaw on any of these historical horseback rides, be sure to bring a sense of adventure and your imagination. You’ll certainly have fun and get the unique chance to put history in perspective.

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