Top 10 True Western Towns of 2008

Towns to Watch

BRACKETTVILLE, TX

Brackettville is a strange mix of history and legend. The history is Fort Clark, founded in 1852 as a frontier post in southwest Texas that later became home to the famed Buffalo Soldiers. Many buildings have been preserved and restored as part of a historic district. The legend is Alamo Village, just a few miles north of town, one of the most active movie locations in the Lone Star State. Visitors can see where John Wayne’s The Alamo and parts of Lonesome Dove (among others) were shot.

CALDWELL, KS

Last year, a local family finished an unusual monument to a recently lost loved one. The family restored the Border Queen Bordello, a landmark in this former cowtown. That “do it yourself” attitude toward historic preservation is pretty much the rule in this town of 1,280 folks. Caldwell is on the Chisholm Trail; it was the starting point for the last U.S. land rush in 1893 and more than a few gunfights took place there. Check out the Cherokee Strip Visitors Center and Museum.

CODY, WY

Buffalo Bill is all over this town that he helped found in 1895. He built the Irma Hotel in 1902 and named it after his daughter. He was the force behind construction of the nearby dam that bears his name in 1905. Even his boyhood home was moved to Cody. But the jewel in the crown has to be the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, “five museums under one roof” that form one of the most complete Western collections anyplace. The old showman himself would have to be impressed.

COFFEYVILLE, KS

Okay, so the Dalton Gang wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms when they attempted to withdraw bank funds in October 1892. Overall, Coffeyville is a visitor friendly town. The annual Dalton Days is a major attraction, as is the Dalton Defenders Museum. The plaza—where both banks from the attempted robbery were located—is little changed; same goes for Death Alley, where gang members and townsmen met their maker in the bloody shoot-out. Three of the outlaws stuck around; their grave is at Elmwood Cemetery.

CREEDE, CO

Creede hit the jackpot when silver was discovered in 1890, drawing in fortune seekers including Soapy Smith, Doc Holliday and the assassin of Jesse James, the coward Robert Ford. The last mine closed in 1985, and tourism is the game for the southwest Colorado burg. Creede offers many attractions: a well-preserved downtown, the historic museum in the old train depot and a mining museum in (naturally) an old mine. The heritage is rich, befitting a Western boomtown.

GUTHRIE, OK

One of our favorite Old West places, downtown Guthrie is the largest historic district in the country. Block after block, it’s like stepping back into 1900—thanks to the savvy planning and work of citizens and officials. A visit to the Territorial Museum is a must; check out its silent films featuring authentic lawmen and outlaws. The 89er Celebration, held each April, commemorates the Land Rush that started in Guthrie; it includes a parade and a PRCA rodeo.

HELPER, UT

Our 2007 Top True Western Town isn’t large (about 2,000 residents), but it has a big commitment to preserving its heritage. Original Victorian buildings grace the downtown, with the centerpiece being the Western Mining & Railroad Museum, housed in the 1914 Helper Hotel. Exhibits feature a simulated coal mine, authentic rail cars and the 1897 robbery at nearby Castle Gate by Butch Cassidy and Co. The Wild Bunch chief reportedly visited Helper on several occasions; what better endorsement is there?

LONE PINE, CA

The tree from which the town is named is long gone, but much of its history still lives on in the frontier-style buildings dating back to the 19th century. The natural beauty is astounding, with both Mt. Whitney and Death Valley close by. Lone Pine is probably best known for its annual film festival (October 10-12 this year), which helps honor the area’s movie heritage, dating back to 1920. Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and Clint Eastwood all did Oaters here. It just looks and feels Western.

NORTHFIELD, MN

A Western town? Yep—it is west of the Mississippi (barely). And it was the site of the James-Younger Gang raid of 1876. The town celebrates that each September with the Defeat of Jesse James Days, perhaps the best re-enactment you can find. The Northfield Historical Society has a great museum featuring photos from the robbery and the eventual capture of the Youngers. The First National Bank has been restored to look the way it did the day the gang was shot to pieces.

SILVER CITY, NM

The one-time home of Billy the Kid is a preservation success story. Some 40 years ago, the downtown was filled with boarded up buildings. Today, that same area is a national historic district, with numerous old buildings transformed into modern businesses of all kinds. The Silver City Museum (housed in an 1881 home) celebrates the area’s varied heritage—Hispanic, Indian and American. And the Western New Mexico University Museum features a remarkable collection of prehistoric pottery and artifacts.

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