bow04_logoCelebrating our 51st continual year of publication, True West again brings you our hoarded nuggets, our favorite out-of-the-way secrets: the best saloons, the top single action army revolver, the wildest Western towns—the West’s best, bar none. We also share your picks in the Readers’ Choice. So sit back and feast your eyes on the best in the West. We know you’ll be glad you did.

Best Living Contemporary Western Artist

James Reynolds

Dream a Technicolor vision of the idealized West with cowboys on horseback, cattle and high country, then capture it all on glowing canvas with unerring honesty and skill. A longtime member of Cowboy Artists of America and a major award winner at the National Academy of Western Art, this Arizona painter paints the myth and the reality. Just possibly as good as it gets.

Readers’ Choice: Bob Boze Bell


Best Living Western Sculptor

Buck McCain

Born to a California ranching family, McCain decided he wasn’t cut out to be a premed student in 1961 and became a starving artist instead. He’s not starving these days, and his bronzes The Cowboy, a tribute to the working cowhand, and Invocation, a mammoth Indian appeal to the Gods, have become symbols of what Western art can (and should) be.


Best Living Native American Artist

Fritz Scholder

The first to depict a buffalo dancer with an ice cream cone, Fritz Scholder is widely considered the padre of the New American Indian Art Movement. His art has spoken against the cliché of the noble savage ever since he first painted the Indian “real, not red.” No other artist so fully depicts American Indians’ struggle to maintain their traditions while living in modern society.


Best Living Cowboy Poet

Red Shuttleworth

Winner of the first Spur Award for poetry from Western Writers of America (Western Settings in 2001), this humble professor is as eloquent as most cowboy poets are crude, a combination, if you will, of Jack Schaefer and Dylan Thomas. Besides, anyone who teaches English, coaches baseball and waxes poetic about Jesse James gets our vote.

Readers’ Choice: Baxter Black


Best Living Western Novelist

Elmer Kelton

So what if he’s won seven Spur Awards and Western Writers of America voted him “the greatest Western author of all time,” Kelton gets this award because a lot of folks—our editor and his father among them—think his books are one fine read.

Readers’ Choice: Elmer Kelton


Best Living Western Historical Novelist

Don Coldsmith

Having trouble staying awake? Read two books and call me in the morning. Retired physician Coldsmith has a sure prescription to keep even the sleepiest pardner awake. Using his blazing quick pen, from the first Spanish Bit novel to his latest The Pipestone Quest, Coldsmith writes historically accurate page-turners. He is a must read for anyone who relishes a good Western.


Best Living Western Nonfiction Writer

Leon Metz

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet writes about some of the worst thugs ever to strap on a gun belt. His biographies of John Wesley Hardin, Pat Garrett and others are as insightful as his prose is polished.

Readers’ Choice: Bob Boze Bell


Best Publisher of Western Fiction

Forge Books New York, New York

What do you get when you combine the courage to publish Western literature in today’s soft Western publishing market with a stable of outstanding Western writers? You get Forge Books, that’s what. Enough said!


Best Publisher of Western Nonfiction

University of Oklahoma Press Norman, Oklahoma

Although the University of Nebraska Press runs a close second, the University of Oklahoma Press wins this one by a nose because of its large inventory of backlisted Western titles and because our editor has so many of them in his home research library.

Readers’ Choice: Tri Star-Boze in Phoenix, AZ


Best Western Bookstores

Arizona: T.A. Swinford, Bookseller, Avondale

California: Argonaut Book Shop, San Francisco

Colorado: Colorado Pioneer Books, Englewood

Idaho: The Yesteryear Shoppe, Nampa

Kansas: Mostly Books, Pittsburg

Minnesota: Lien’s Bookshop, Minneapolis

Missouri: Spivey’s Rare Books, Old Maps & Fine Art, Kansas City

Nebraska: Plains Trading Co. Booksellers, Valentine

New Mexico: Dumont Maps & Books of the West, Santa Fe

Oklahoma: Abalache Book & Antique Shop, Oklahoma City

Oregon: Powell’s City of Books, Portland

Texas: Aldredge Book Store, Dallas

Utah: Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore, Salt Lake City

Washington: Arthur H. Clark Company, Spokane

Wyoming: Valley Bookstore, Jackson





Best Retro Clothing Manufacturer

CadZoots Downey, California

David “Cad” Kadison has created fine Western clothing with a vintage flair for you cowboys and cowgirls who know “cool” when you see it. Shirts from the Billy Bob Thornton American Originals series, the Roy Rogers Signature series and the Dale Evans Signature series feature stitched arrow smile pockets, Western-style piping and diamond or round pearl snaps. We know “cool,” and these babies are way “cool.”


Best Jean Trend Setter

Lawman Western Los Angeles, California

Lawman has stolen the show with their jeans for surfer cowboys. And all of their sexy styles for gals are hot hot hot. If you don’t believe us, check out the cowboys and cowgirls wearing Lawman Western at your favorite watering hole. Going or coming, they’ll be looking good.


Best Western Shirt Maker

Rockmount Ranch Wear Denver, Colorado

Since Jack A. Weil founded Rockmount in 1946, the company has been both a leader and an innovator in Western shirt design, and made the first Western shirts with snaps. Rockmount’s signature look is the longest running, Western production shirt design in the country, a distinction that earned the shirt a place in the Smithsonian Institution’s permanent collection.


Best Regional Western Wear Store

Texas Jack’s Wild West Outfitters Fredericksburg, Texas

Named for John Burwell “Texas Jack” Omohundro, famed 19th-century army scout, this king-size Western emporium has been dubbed the Greatest Store on Earth. Whether you’re looking for vintage cowboy togs or an 1838 Colt Paterson reproduction, Texas Jack’s can fill your needs.


Best Hatmaker

Hatman Jack’s Wichita Hat Works Wichita, Kansas

Need a new hat? Since sending one’s head in for a custom fit isn’t feasible, call Hatman Jack’s. With a single call, Jack can customize the perfect hat whether it be a contemporary or traditional cowboy style. HMJ’s has created originals for Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Luciano Pavarotti, Charlie Daniels and others. No smoke and mirrors veiling his work.

Readers’ Choice: Stetson in Garland, TX


Best Leatherware Manufacturer

American West Pompano Beach, Florida

Founded in 1986, American West has been the leader in Western-style leather handbags, travel wear and small leather goods for nearly 18 years. The company specializes in elegant leather goods that are hand-tooled by Guarani Indian craftsmen. Whether you’re a cowboy or cowgirl, American West’s briefcases and handbags will complement whatever you wear, from jeans to a suit.


Best Bootmaker—Large Manufacturer

Lucchese Boot Company San Antonio, Texas

The Lucchese boots have been known for quality ever since Sam Lucchese, Sr. founded the company in 1883. But it was his grandson’s study of the human foot and from that knowledge, his design of the exclusive “twisted cone last” that put the company head and shoulders above other large boot manufacturers. Whether made from traditional leather or exotic skins such as kangaroo, elephant or stingray, Lucchese boots fit like a glove.


Best Bootmaker—One Man Shop

John Weinkauf Washoe Valley, Nevada

A native of Tucson, Arizona, John Weinkauf has been working in leather for 35 years. He has been making custom boots in his cozy Washoe Valley, Nevada, shop for 21 years. A true artisan from the old school, John has been making custom boots for his friends and a growing constituency of fans since he moved up to Nevada to get away for a change of scenery. Unpretentious and traditional, John also has a creative, wild streak in his work, which makes for some interesting departures from old style bootmaking. John loves his work and it shows. (He’s moving his shop to Kerrville, Texas, later this year.)


Best Custom Bootmaker

Tres Outlaws Boot Company El Paso, Texas

For overlaid or inlaid, filigree-style, hand-tooled boots that look as though they should be in the Louvre, rather than on some cowboy’s feet, Tres Outlaws is the place to go. The craftsmen at this company don’t just make boots; they create art. And the rich and famous who pay big bucks to own a pair of Tres Outlaws’ boots reads like a who’s who of Hollywood.

Readers’ Choice: Bowman’s Wilson Boot Co. in Livingston, MT


Best Rodeo—National

Cheyenne Frontier Days Cheyenne, Wyoming

Lose yourself in what has been the world’s largest rodeo since 1897. Organized almost entirely by nearly 2,500 volunteers, the “Daddy of ’em All” closes each July with parades, chuckwagon cook-offs, Western art and nine PRCA rodeos with purses reaching one million dollars. Record crowds cheer rodeo athletes by day and hot Country and Western entertainment by night. It’s where to feel like a cowboy even if you’re not.

Readers’ Choice: National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, NV


Best Rodeo—Regional

Oklahoma Prison Rodeo McAlester, Oklahoma

Fun times and hard time, hard labor and a Labor Day weekend institution. Held inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, this is PRCA’s only sanctioned “behind the walls” event, where card-carrying cowboys as well as inmates compete.

Readers’ Choice: Cody Nite Rodeo in Cody, WY


Best Horse Trainer

Buck Brannaman Sheridan, Wyoming

He was the inspiration for the film The Horse Whisperer. Buck Brannaman drinks his coffee black, has a dispute over environmental damage on his Wyoming ranch caused by coal bed methane development and can whisper instructions to a horse, making even the wildest animal settle down in a few short hours. His horse training technique has been so effective, some wives and employees want to try it on their husbands and bosses.


Best Dude Ranches

Arizona: Elkhorn Ranch, Tucson

California: Coffee Creek Ranch, Trinity Center

Colorado: Vista Verde Ranch, Steamboat Springs

Idaho: Diamond D Ranch, Stanley

Montana: Nine Quarter Circle Ranch, Gallatin Gateway

New Mexico: Double E Guest Ranch, Gila

Oregon: Rock Springs Guest Ranch, Bend

Texas: Cibolo Creek Ranch, Big Bend

Utah: Wind Walker Guest Ranch, Spring City

Wyoming: Paradise Guest Ranch, Buffalo

Best Cap and Ball Revolver Reproduction

1851 Colt Navy Navy Arms Co. • Martinsburg, West Virginia

Introduced in 1959 by Navy Arms, the .36 caliber 1851 Colt Navy revolver started the replica business. Colt’s original served during the Civil War and traveled west to tame the frontier. The ’51 Navy was Wild Bill Hickok’s favorite, and Navy Arms’ well crafted, faithful replica is ours.

Readers’ Choice: Model 300, .44 caliber 1860 Army brass revolver, Taylor’s & Co., Winchester, VA


Best Cartridge Conversion Revolver Reproduction

Richards-Mason 1851 Navy Conversion Cimarron F.A. Co. • Fredericksburg, Texas

Six-guns converted from percussion ignition to metallic cartridge played a bigger part in the Wild West than they’ve previously been given credit for. Now, thanks to top-notch reproductions like Cimarron’s Richards-Mason 1851 Navy Conversion, they’re re-winning the West, especially in cowboy action shooting. Cimarron’s handsome replica has captured the authentic lines and feel of the real deal.

Readers’ Choice: Richards-Mason 1851 Navy Conversion, Cimarron F.A. Co., Fredericksburg, TX


Best Old West Repeating Rifle Reproduction

1860 Henry Cimarron F.A. Co. • Fredericksburg, Texas

Cimarron’s Civil War-era, 1860 Henry replica is a spittin’ image of those martial rimfire arms that made the trek westward during our early frontier years. Detail perfect and beautifully finished—complete with military sling swivels, “U.S.” and inspector’s stampings of “B. Tyler Henry” and “Charles G. Chapman”—these rifles are now chambered in either .44-40 or .45 Colt centerfire rounds.

Readers’ Choice: Henry Big Boy, Henry Repeating Arms Co., Brooklyn, NY


Best Old West Single Shot Rifle Reproduction

Model 1874 Hartford Sporting Rifle C. Sharps Arms Co. • Big Timber, Montana

If Christian Sharps were alive today, we bet he’d be proud to stamp his name on C. Sharps Arms’ reproductions of his company’s famed buffalo guns. Powerful, ruggedly handsome and extremely accurate, their Model 1874 Hartford Sporting Rifle authentically recreates the epitome of the boss gun of the 1870’s hide hunters.

Readers’ Choice: Rolling Block Buffalo Rifle, Navy Arms Co., Martinsburg, W.V.


Best Single Action Army Revolver

Single Action Army United States Fire-Arms Mfg. Co. • Hartford, Connecticut

Following in the historic hoofprints of the Old West’s most famous workhorse six-gun, the fit and finish of United States Fire-Arms’ “Peacemaker” reproduction is without equal. The company’s SAA is accurate, reliable and reasonably priced for such quality. Sam Colt’s got to be spinning over this handsome clone.

Readers’ Choice: Colt .45 Single Action Army, Colt’s Patent Fire Arms Mfg. Co., Hartford, CT


Best Frontier Cartridge Revolver Reproduction

1875 Remington Hartford Armory • Collinsville, Connecticut

Exhibiting first-class workmanship, Hartford Armory’s 1875 Remington replica is a detail-perfect copy of the famed frontier six-shooter that tried to take some of the handgun market away from Colt in the late 19th century. Hartford’s quality clone is not only suitable for cowboy action shooting, but its beefy construction also allows for use as a powerful hunting revolver as well.


Best Authentic Gunleather Artisan

Jake Johnson Glendale, California

Moviemakers wanting the very best in Old West gunleather often call on Jake Johnson for his handcrafted gun rigs. He’s outfitted films, such as Hidalgo, Wild Bill, The Quick and the Dead, and the History Channel’s Wild West Tech series. Prices are competitive for such quality, and the finished product looks like it fell out of a time machine.

Readers’ Choice: SA Gun Leather in Wheaton, IL


Best Mounted Shooting Event

CMSA World Championship Scottsdale, Arizona

Got a hankerin’ to see about 300 of the nation’s top cowboy mounted shooters and their spirited horses compete for around $75,000 in money and awards—including saddles and guns? Then head on down to WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona, November 24-28, for the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association’s (CMSA) World Championship. Lots of action, Saturday night entertainment, Western vendors … it’s a blast.

Readers’ Choice: End of Trail in Norco, CA


Best Single Action Shooting Match

Winter Range Phoenix, Arizona

We like Winter Range with its authentic scenery, mild Arizona winter weather, cowboy action and mounted shooting, and other Western doin’s—all a part of this frontier encampment and exhibition held in the beautiful Sonoran Desert, just north of Phoenix, Arizona, on February 16-20. SASS’ National Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting is produced by the Arizona Territorial Company of Rough Riders.

Readers’ Choice: End of Trail in Norco, CA


Best Saloons

Arizona: Palace Restaurant & Saloon, Prescott

California: Viva Fresh Mexican Restaurant & Lounge, Burbank

Colorado: Buckhorn Exchange, Denver

Idaho: Pioneer Saloon, Ketchum

Kansas: Last Chance Bar & Grill, Caldwell

Minnesota: Dressen’s Saloon, Hay Creek

Montana: Bale of Hay Saloon, Virginia City

Nevada: Bucket O’Blood Saloon, Virginia City

New Mexico: Mine Shaft Tavern, Madrid

Oklahoma: Blue Belle Saloon & Restaurant, Guthrie

Oregon: Wild Hare Saloon & Café, Canby

South Dakota: Old Style Saloon #10, Deadwood

Texas: White Elephant Saloon, Fort Worth

Wyoming: The Virginian Hotel’s Shiloh Saloon, Medicine Bow




Best Roadside Attraction

Tinkertown Museum

Sandia Park, New Mexico


Best Roadside Attraction

Tinkertown Museum Sandia Park, New Mexico

Ross Ward had a unique vision, creating a miniature Western town (and circus) that draws 20,000 visitors each year at its off-the-beaten-path location on the Turquoise Trail. The 22-room museum houses a lot of oddities and is surrounded by walls made from 50,000 glass bottles. Why? Well, why not?

Readers’ Choice: Old Trail Town in Cody, WY


Best Western Train Ride

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Durango, Colorado

Cinders, mountains, sunlight, cold streams, a three-hour tour coming or going where even Gilligan could not get lost, and you have the recipe for a perfect day. We’d venture to say a good portion of you folks have never ridden an old-fashioned passenger train. (Commuter rides don’t count.) Pack up the family and camera, and book a ride on the D&SNGR.

Readers’ Choice: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Durango, CO


Best Ghost Town

South Pass City, Wyoming

Gold boomtown and birthplace of women’s suffrage in Wyoming, South Pass City is long past its heyday of the 1860s. Although many of the town’s buildings remain, mining equipment litters the hillsides and the jail is still in working order, even if not in use.

Readers’ Choice: Silver City, ID


Best Stagecoach Ride

Virginia City Overland Stage Virginia City, Montana

Hold on to your hat as Scott and Dawn Hagedorn flick the lines over the backs of their team and the stagecoach lurches and picks up speed rolling out of Virginia City, Montana, and onto the rutted roads near Alder Gulch. You’ll be bounced and bumped into fellow travelers as the dust swirls through the windows and the harness jangles. Now this is a stagecoach ride.


Best Wagon Train Experience

Ben Kern’s Wagon Train Club Evansville, Wyoming

If you can get along with the sometimes cantankerous wagon boss (Ben Kern), you’ll travel old Western trails (Oregon, Mormon, California, Bozeman, Cherokee) the best way possible, riding in a covered wagon with steel-rimed tires (no rubber allowed) pulled by a couple of mules. Veteran travelers with Kern would say, in fact, that the wagon master is closely related to his mules—stubborn, determined and certain his way is always right.


Best Bar to People Watch

Greasewood Flats Scottsdale, Arizona

First off, Greasewood Flats is an outdoor saloon. During our editor’s first trip there, he saw one couple arrive in a Rolls-Royce, which they parked next to a bevy of tricked-out Harleys, whose riders had as much gray hair as he does. And with Coors costing only $2.25 a bottle, he was in hog heaven.


Best Western Riverboat Cruise

Lewis and Clark Cruise American West Steamboat Co. Portland, Oregon

If you’re into Lewis and Clark, this is the cruise for you. American West’s riverboat journey up the Columbia and Snake Rivers traces the Corps of Discovery’s route, while an onboard historian recounts the explorers’ adventures during stops at scenic and historical sites. As an added plus, the boat’s galley turns out tasty victuals, so even if you don’t like history, your appetite’s sure to be appeased.


Best Old West Coffee Company

New Mexico Piñon Coffee Co. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Another award for New Mexico Piñon Coffee could be the World’s Most Sexy Coffee, since there’s an aphrodisiac quality inherent in the piñon tree nut used in the company’s five-bean coffee blend. And unlike the drug Ecstasy, New Mexico Piñon Coffee is legal.

Readers’ Choice: Arbuckles’ Coffee in Tucson, AZ




Best Wild West Town

AZ Prescott

Remember, it’s pronounced Presskit. It may have lost its status as the capital the last time in 1889, but Whiskey Row is still around, only serving better food and libations than during those territorial days. It’s home to real cowboys, wanna-be cowboys and rodeo cowboys during the Prescott Frontier Days’ “World’s Oldest Rodeo.” Oldest? That’s debatable.

Readers’ Choice: Tombstone

CA Coloma

One little hunk of gold plucked from the sawmill race in the American River by John Marshall in January 1848 altered the course of Western history and spawned a rush to California and the gold town of Coloma. These days, Coloma mines the pockets of tourists who come to the gold rush site to shake a pan for gold, raft, hike in the valley, purchase fresh produce or drink wine.

Readers’ Choice: Los Angeles

CO Mancos

Tourists and real cowboys love this town between Cortez and Durango. It’s full of cool shops (not chains) and Victorian homes, plus it plays host to the annual Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest (the Ute Mountain Utes’ Bear Dance is nearby, too). And unlike most Western tourist towns, it doesn’t always smell like funnel cake.

Readers’ Choice: Leadville

ID Ketchum

If a local says he lives in Sun Valley despite his Ketchum address, you know you’re talking to a yuppie. Skiing kept Ketchum from going the way of other Idaho mining towns after their mines played out. These days, tourists provide the bucks and bedlam that earned the town its place in our “Best of the West.”

Readers’ Choice: Coeur d’Alene

KS Ellsworth

Kansas is loaded with some great historic cattle towns, but we opt for this one. Although smaller than Wichita and not as well known as Dodge City, Ellsworth certainly savors its Western roots. The folks are friendly (even to Texans, unlike in 1873), and it doesn’t smell like cow-bleep all the time.

Readers’ Choice: Dodge City

MN Northfield

Any town that throws back-to-back festivals, Defeat of Jesse James Days and the Rice County Steam & Gas Engine, Inc. Threshing Show, kicks butt. Okay, we don’t know what the heck a steam (or gas) thresher can actually show, but we certainly savvy Jesse James and think these Minnesotans can whup his butt again in 2004.

Readers’ Choice: Dundas

MT Red Lodge

From flyfishing and skiing to Western history and art, Red Lodge has it all, including great people (with a few oddballs thrown in), great beer and great lodgings (the Pollard Hotel and Rock Creek Resort top the list). About the only thing it lacks are pig races, but those are run just up the road in Bearcreek.

Readers’ Choice: Virginia City

NE Omaha

Frank James and Annie Ralston eloped here. But if you’re not a Western romantic, even if you don’t care about the Union Pacific or Lewis and Clark, here are three other reasons we love this place: corn-fed beef, Gen. George Crook’s house and the College World Series. Play ball!

Readers’ Choice: Ogallala

NV Virginia City

Nah, it didn’t burn to the ground. That was just the map on Bonanza. The glory days of the Comstock Lode may be history, but this town, from the Gold Hill Hotel to the Bullette Red Light Museum (it’s just a museum, guys), is the real deal.

Readers’ Choice: Virginia City

NM Lincoln

The street has been paved, but not much else about this village has changed since the days of the Lincoln County War. Once considered “the most dangerous street in America,” the only danger these days comes from eating too much at the Wortley Hotel or the Ellis Store & Co. Country Inn.

Readers’ Choice: Lincoln

ND Medora

Although founded by a French nobleman, Medora gets the nod as an Old West town because if it’s good enough for Teddy Roosevelt, by dang, it’s good enough for us. Roosevelt had two ranches here, the Maltese Cross and the Elkhorn, which, he always said, provided the “romance of my life” and led him to the White House. There he became the first great conservationist, signing laws that protected antiquities, created national monuments, parks and wildlife refuges, and established the U.S. Forest Service. Not a bad legacy for a little badlands town.

OK Oklahoma City

The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Enough said. All right, our high sheriffs say it’s not enough said, so let’s add the great Western stores in the Bricktown district, boomers and sooners everywhere, and a horse track named after Frederic Remington.

Readers’ Choice: Lawton

OR Pendleton

Cowboys and Indians came together in Pendleton in 1909 to launch the first Pendleton Roundup and Happy Canyon, events that are still going strong in this Northeast Oregon town known worldwide for its woolen mills. Not elaborate by some standards, the roundup grounds have nevertheless seen more world-class cowboys eat dirt than most states can claim, ranging from early-day female bronc riders like Bertha Blancett to 2004 Rodeo Hall of Fame inductee Casey Tibbs.

Readers’ Choice: Oregon City

SD Deadwood

Rebuilt after natural disasters in the 1880s, Deadwood fuels the imagination better than most Western towns. Once a Black Hills gold camp, it is now ruled by casinos, although local revenues do support preservation. Wild Bill Days, the Trial of Jack McCall and Days of ’76 are some of the fun. Pay your respects to Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok on Mount Moriah. (Not prime time—the real deal.)

Readers’ Choice: Deadwood

TX Fort Davis

There’s the well preserved fort, now a national historic site. A wonderful state park. Terrific inns and B&Bs. A great dude ranch, an observatory and a darn good hatmaker at Limpia Creek Hat Company. And scary state secessionists. Not only that, but the 1998 charming movie Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 was filmed here, so this gets our vote.

Readers’ Choice: Fort Worth

UT St. George

One of the prettiest towns you’ll find in Utah with the stunning St. George Temple, this burg’s also surrounded by history: the homes of Jacob Hamblin and Brigham Young, Zion National Park, the Old Spanish Trail and the haunting Mountain Meadows Massacre site. And if things get tetchy, you can skip across to Arizona real quick like.

Readers’ Choice: Alta

WY Pinedale

Long before Buffalo Bill dreamed of making a fortune in Cody (a great town, certainly), mountain men knew the treasures of the Pinedale area. Fur trappers get their due at the Museum of the Mountain Man and the annual Green River Rendezvous, but we also dig the Pinedale Blues Festival and breakfast at the Wrangler Cafe.

Readers’ Choice: Cheyenne


Best Historic Western Hotels

Arizona: Hassayampa Inn, Prescott

California: Murphys Historic Hotel

& Lodge, Murphys

Colorado: Stanley Hotel, Estes Park

Idaho: Idaho Hotel, Silver City

Kansas: Eldridge Hotel, Lawrence

Minnesota: Archer House, Northfield

Montana: Sacagawea Hotel, Three Forks

Nebraska: Olde Main Street Inn, Chadron

Nevada: Gold Hill Hotel, Virginia City

New Mexico: Historic Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas

North Dakota: Rough Riders Hotel, Medora

Oklahoma: Ambassador, Tulsa

Oregon: Governor Hotel, Portland

South Dakota: Bullock Hotel, Deadwood

Texas: Gage Hotel, Marathon

Wyoming: Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel, Cody


Best Western Historical Sites

AZ Fort Bowie

Southeast of Bowie

The adobe ruins aren’t much when compared to military posts like Fort Laramie. Yet, the remoteness of the park (you have to hike in) makes you appreciate what this area must have been like during the Apache Wars. Just remember: Geronimo, Cochise and Lt. George Bascom may be gone, but rattlesnakes still have the right-of-way.

Readers’ Choice: Town of Tombstone


CA Old Sacramento


Argonauts arrived by boat, stagecoach, carriage, wagon, horse and foot, seeking riches in California and Old Sacramento, and you can use those modes of transportation, too. Old Sacramento these days has plays in the Eagle Theatre, merchants lining the streets and operating in historical buildings, plus museums with trains and military gear.

Readers’ Choice: Town of Columbia


CO Bent’s “Old” Fort

La Junta

Possibly the first 7-11 on the Santa Fe Trail, Bent’s Fort was one-stop shopping in the early 1800s and an adobe-brick gathering place for fur traders and Indians. Founder William Bent married the daughter of a Cheyenne chief here; John C. Fremont restocked provisions here; and the first white woman to travel the trail, Mary Donoho (not Susan Magoffin as commonly believed) had tea here in 1833. The replica is a beautiful reconstruction.

Readers’ Choice: Town of Leadville


ID City of Rocks National Reserve


Emigrants on the California Trail left their names painted in axle grease on the rock outcroppings that gave the City of Rocks its name. These days, history buffs take a backseat to rock climbers who flock here from all over the world in order to test their skill on monoliths such as the Bread Loaves or Incisor.


KS Fort Larned


Nine buildings have been restored and furnished to their original appearance. Re-enactors are often on hand, recreating life on a military post that guards the Santa Fe Trail. George Custer spent a week here in 1867 before taking off, probably in search of some decent Mexican food.

Readers’ Choice: Fort Larned


MN First National Bank


The First National Bank is a beautifully preserved crime scene. Unlike many other Old West sites, the very bank where Jesse James and his cohorts met their Waterloo is exactly as it stood in 1876, right down to the clock on the wall, which stopped during the robbery (2:10 p.m.) and has never been reset. It is chilling to see this next to the vault where it all happened. What a great, must-see site.

Readers’ Choice: Town of Northfield


MO Fort Osage


William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) built the original Fort Osage in the fall of 1808. Its modern-day replica is one of the best trading post copies in the country. Seen from the Missouri River, the fort looks as if it had been thrust back into the early 19th century.

MT Town of Virginia City

Virginia City

Sip some suds, buy a hat or peer through windows of stores that closed decades ago as you wander along the one main street in Virginia City. It’s the best preserved, 1860’s-era gold town in Montana and one where you can still attend a melodrama, climb aboard a stagecoach or train, find a meal or rent a room for the night.

Readers’ Choice: Little Bighorn Battlefield


ND Knife River Indian Villages


So much important history took place around here, it boggles the mind. French fur trader Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, the Sieur de la Vérendrye, came in 1738; followed by Lewis and Clark, who spent the winter of 1804-05 at nearby Fort Mandan. And then the American Fur Company opened Fort Clark a few miles down the Missouri River from here in 1831. Unfortunately for the Hidatsas, who lived at the Knife-Missouri confluence, smallpox arrived on the riverboat St. Peter’s in 1837, killing upwards of half the tribe and almost all of the neighboring Mandans.

Readers’ Choice: Town of Pembina


NE Homestead National Monument of America


Western historical sites often pay tribute to warriors, but this little gem honors a rare thing indeed: something good that came out of Congress. Think about it. The Homestead Act of 1862 probably did more to open up the West until Starbucks came along.

Readers’ Choice: Fort Robinson


NM Fort Sumner

Fort Sumner

In the 19th century, Fort Sumner was no place to be. Just ask Billy the Kid (killed here in 1881, sorry Brushy Bill fans) or the Navajos interred at dreadful Bosque Redondo. Today it’s a great place to be for Billy buffs and anyone else, if for no other reason than the milkshakes at Addison Drug.

Readers’ Choice: Town of Lincoln


NV Town of Carson City

Carson City

When Mark Twain arrived here in 1861, he was more impressed with the neighboring Sierra Nevada Mountains than with the town, but then he never heard Carson City’s “Talking Houses.” The 2.5-mile Kit Carson Trail passes 24 preserved Victorian homes with their tales broadcast on several AM radio frequencies. And be sure to see the Krebs-Petersen house, the site of John Wayne’s last movie, The Shootist.

Readers’ Choice: Town of Virginia City


OK Fort Sill


On one of the Southern Plains’ most important military site, the museum pays tribute to the buffalo soldiers who helped establish this post in 1869. Plus, the post cemetery is a who’s who of Indian graves (Quanah Parker, Satanta, Ten Bears, Satank, etc.), and Geronimo’s final resting place just down the road is colorful and surreal.

Readers’ Choice: Fort Sill


OR Pendleton Underground Tours


In the late 1800s, Chinese workers constructed a series of underground tunnels that connected Pendleton businesses. The tunnels became part of an underground network that linked businesses ranging from the respected, like a German meat market and ice cream parlor, to profitable bordellos frequented by cowboys and sheepherders. During prohibition, saloons and gambling dens went underground, as well.


SD Wounded Knee

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Many historical sites make you appreciate the past. This one leaves you disturbed. A small monument marks where the scores of Sioux were killed on December 29, 1890, in one of the most senseless military/Indian conflicts in Western history. For tourists, this is the antithesis of South Dakota’s Wall Drug.

Readers’ Choice: Town of Deadwood


TX Alamo

San Antonio

Everything’s supposed to be bigger in Texas, but nowadays this shrine of Texas independence gets kinda dwarfed by downtown San Antonio skyscrapers. No matter how Davy died (we opt for the Arthur Hunnicutt version in The Lost Command), the Alamo remains a haunting testament to courage and sacrifice.

Readers’ Choice: Alamo in San Antonio, TX


UT Mountain Meadows

Near St. George

Largely forgotten, the Mormon-led massacre of 120-odd members of a wagon train from Arkansas on September 11, 1857, remains one of the most controversial events in U.S. history. Did Brigham Young order the bloodbath? Was John D. Lee, the only person executed for the killings, a scapegoat? Will the truth ever be known?


WA Whitman Mission

West of Walla Walla

Darned near every overland emigrant heading to Oregon from 1843-47 stopped at the mission established by Dr. Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. Then the good doctor’s treatment for a measles epidemic—caused by those same overland travelers—was ineffective for Indian children who had no natural immunity, so the Cayuses attacked the mission, killing Marcus and Narcissa, plus nearly a dozen others, and forcing the mission to close. Even so, tracks of the pioneers are plainly evident at this site beside the Walla Walla River.

Readers’ Choice: Fort Vancouver


WY Fort Laramie

Fort Laramie

In what feels like the middle of nowhere, this beautifully preserved military post established in 1849 is a Western adventurer’s trip back in time. Soldiers built the fort on the grounds of the original Fort William trading post (1834) near the confluence of the North Platte and Laramie Rivers. Costumed re-enactors, mountain men and soldiers explain the past with convincing accuracy. Sip a sarsaparilla when you’re done.

Readers’ Choice: Old Trail Town in Cody, WY


Best Western Museums

Arizona: Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff

California: Museum of the American West (formerly the Autry), Los Angeles

Colorado: Buffalo Bill Grave & Museum, Golden

Idaho: National Oregon/California Trail Center, Montpelier

Kansas: Old Cowtown Museum, Wichita

Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society History Center, St. Paul

Missouri: Jesse James Farm & Museum, Kearney

Montana: Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Center, Great Falls

Nebraska: Scout’s Rest Ranch, North Platte

Nevada: Nevada State Museum, Carson City

New Mexico: Harwood Museum of Art, Taos

North Dakota: Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Washburn

Oklahoma: National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City

Oregon: End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Oregon City

South Dakota: Journey Museum, Rapid City

Texas: Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon

Utah: Museum of Church History & Art, Salt Lake City

Washington: Fort Vancouver, Vancouver

Wyoming: Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody


Best Authentic Saddle Maker

Will Ghormley Des Moines, Iowa

There are a lot of good saddle makers around, but few combine historical accuracy with leather artistry. Specializing in recreating saddles of the 19th century, Ghormley explains: “When men lived in their saddles, the saddles had to be sturdy, comfortable, durable, functional and versatile.” His are.

Readers’ Choice: Old Pueblo Saddle Co. in Pueblo West, CO


Best Blacksmith

Earl Tupps Wyoming/Colorado

On the road up to 12 months a year, Tupps shoes horses from Cody to Colorado Springs—because he likes to. Tall and quiet, gentle and calm, he knows a good fit from a bad one and how to correct when necessary. He never hurts his back because he shoes on his knees! Horses like him. People do, too. “Have cell phone will travel.”

Readers’ Choice: Billy Klapper


Best Silversmith

Tom Paul Schneider Gilbert, Arizona

Descended from a great-grandfather who shod mules in WWI, this award-winning craftsman swears metalwork is in his blood. Once a working cowboy as well, he’s passionate about his craft, making wearable art (especially belt buckles), fully hand-engraved in pure silver with great graphics and elaborate designs as unique as his signature. When you’re ready for the best—get in line.

Readers’ Choice: Squaw Creek Silver in Rainbow, TX


Best Old West Bowie Knife Maker

Bob Giles Whitefish, Montana

Sharp-eyed Bowie knife fanciers ogle over the historical artistry of Bob Giles (Cowboy Bob’s Frontier Trappings). From big clip point Bowies of the 1830s to the smaller 1880’s hunter’s companion knives, this artisan handcrafts each blade from recycled circular sawmill blades, then fits them with period-correct handles of ivory, ebony, pearl and other 19th-century materials—including silvered Tiffany-style grips.


Best Knife Maker

Bill Smith Silverdale, Washington

Outstanding doesn’t come close to describing the beauties created by Bill Smith. The blades, from either stainless or stainless ladder Damascus steel, are cut in shapes from skinners, hunters and carvers to combination sawtooth/skinners. What makes Smith’s knives unique are the exquisite stone handles that he makes from rhodonite, petrified wood, limestone, quartz or jade.

Readers’ Choice: W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. in Bradford, PA


Best Western Furniture Crafter

Lester Santos Cody, Wyoming

Lester Santos has worked for other furniture companies, but when he became his own boss, his furniture blossomed into unique pieces, combining Shaker, Molesworth, New Mexican and Native American styles. Not content to turn trees into furniture that become works of art, he donates a portion of all proceeds to buy and plant more trees.


Best Tent Maker

David Ellis Canvas Products Durango, Colorado

A big wind came up at this year’s Festival of the West in Scottsdale, Arizona, blowing down a number of tents, but not those made by David Ellis. So, while other exhibitors raced around trying to retrieve their belongings, the True West staff and members of Western Writers of America, who were also using Dave’s tents, were snug as a bug in a rug.


Best Backcountry Outfitter

Rimrock Dude Ranch Cody, Wyoming

Outfitter Gary Fales claims “there is no trail, pass or creek in this country that we have not ridden.” And by golly, since he’s been doing it from the time he could sit a horse, and his parents outfitted in the Thorofare and Yellowstone wilderness areas for years before that, who’s to dispute his claim? Fales leads a fine pack outfit for fishermen and hunters during summer and fall from Yellowstone National Park and Cody to near Dubois.


Best Western Festival

Festival of the West Scottsdale, Arizona

Imagine a full menu of top-notch Western entertainment, including single action shooting, chuckwagon cook-offs, nonstop cowboy music, a Native American experience, vintage Western film actors, a costume contest and vendors who can bankrupt your credit card, all located in beautiful Scottsdale, Arizona. Put on your boots and go every third week of March. If it was more fun, it wouldn’t be legal.

Readers’ Choice: Festival of the West in Scottsdale, AZ


Best Western Auction

Brian Lebel’s Cody Old West Show and Auction Cody, Wyoming

Since 1989, dealer Brian Lebel has presented the finest authentic cowboy memorabilia (circa 1880 and beyond) for sale each June in Cody, Wyoming, featuring over 300 independent dealers and a collectible catalogue (see p. 18 for his latest auction). Watch an international audience bid for top dollar on art, tack, clothing and more, all wanting a piece of the American West. Can’t go? Bidding by mail or real-time Internet is encouraged.


Best Old West Re-enactment

Fort Buford Sixth Infantry Frontier Military Encampment Southwest of Williston, North Dakota

Members of the Sixth Infantry re-enactment group blow off a lot of black powder during their annual military encampment at Fort Buford each July; occasionally the soldiers mix it up with fur trade re-enactors from nearby Fort Union. You can trade for firearms, tobacco, soap and even a cup of whiskey … just watch out because some traders have been known to add a rattlesnake head or two to the barrel to give their whiskey some “bite.”

Readers’ Choice: Immortal Gunfighters in Chloride, AZ


Best Rendezvous

Fort Bridger’s Mountain Man Rendezvous Fort Bridger, Wyoming

The hardest thing you’ll have to do at this Labor Day rendezvous is find a parking place in this tiny community. Once you enter the grounds of Fort Bridger State Historic Site, filled with tipis and tents, buckskinners, traders and Indians, you’ll begin looking for Old Gabe himself; some of these guys (and gals) look grizzly enough to be the 200-year-old mountain man.


Best Western Movie Set

Eaves Movie Ranch Santa Fe, New Mexico

“If you build it, they will come.” Okay, they didn’t film Field of Dreams here, but once J.W. Eaves opened his ranch to Hollywood, they definitely came, filming little known movies until its first big hit, 1969’s The Cheyenne Social Club. John Wayne walked these streets, but perhaps the biggest character was J.W. Eaves himself, who died in 2001 at age 85.

Readers’ Choice: The Alamo Set in Brackettville, TX


Best Living Western Actress

Cate Blanchett

Cate only has one Western role on her belt but it’s a doozy. As the mother of a kidnapped daughter who has severe abandonment issues with her father (Tommy Lee Jones), Blanchett burns and churns as the conflicted, helpless and yet resilient mother in last year’s The Missing. The movie was a failure, but you can’t blame Cate. She is so strong, so weak, so angry, so sad, in short, so believable as an emotionally repressed, pragmatic and protective pioneer woman all rolled into one body. They don’t write that dynamic in the script; Cate brought it all with her. Let’s hope she comes back again.

Readers’ Choice: Diane Lane


Best Living Western Actor

Sam Elliott

Hate beans? You won’t after watching Sam Elliott scarf them down in the TNT movie Conagher. And his voice! Bet you can hear him say “Howdy Ma’am” by just seeing the words in print. He’s a cowboy’s cowboy, turning any movie into a gotta see flick. We hope there are a lot more Westerns that’ll come out from under his hat.

Readers’ Choice: Robert Duvall


Best Western CD

Prairie Winds Pistol River

North, south, east or west, Prairie Winds is the best! This Western CD by Pistol River is scrumptious to the ears. Full of cowboys and cowgirls, mountains and prairies, life and death, love lost and found, its ballads tantalize the soul. Just play it, and “They will listen.” This is Western WOW!


Best Alternative Western Music CD

Spirit Songs: The Best of Bill Miller

Bill Miller

Native American Miller has been recording for over 25 years. He combines musical styles from his own culture with those of others to produce beautiful, haunting tales of the true West. This year, he released Spirit Songs: The Best of Bill Miller, which chronicles those years. He tours extensively throughout the year, so keep your ears to the rail.


Best Balladeer

Don Edwards

We’re certainly not going to argue with Bobby Weaver of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, who said that Don Edwards is “the best purveyor of cowboy music in America today.” Son of a vaudeville magician, Edwards taught himself to play the guitar at age 10 and made his first record in 1964. Today, two of his albums are in the Folklore Archives of the Library of Congress.


Best High-energy Acoustic

The Greencards

Speaking of troubadours, we start with a band living in Texas but comprised of musicians from Australia and England. They have recently released their first album, Movin’ On. Their core group is comprised of award-winning mandolin, fiddle and bass players, though their CD and tours include one amazing guitarist or another. This album of mostly originals ain’t your grandpa’s Bluegrass, but we bet he’d love it.

Readers’ Choice: Davin James


Best Bluegrass Country

King Wilkie

After only two albums, it is obvious that this young band is destined for greatness—get in on the ground floor. Their musicianship and respect for tradition belie the fact that they are only in their 20s. They bring an exuberance and life to Bluegrass that the masters seem to have forgotten. On their second release, Broke (see review on p. 103), the band combines six original tunes that fit right in with Jimmie Rodgers, Jimmie Davis, the Monroe Brothers and the traditional “Little Birdie.”

Readers’ Choice: Alison Krauss


Best Traditional Country

James Hand

It don’t get more real than this. Growing up in a small Texas town, James has lived the life of his honky-tonk songs. Though he sounds remarkably like Hank Williams, “Slim” is an original, from the songs he writes to his honest modesty about what he does. Every lover of Traditional Country who hears him quickly becomes a devoted fan. After a lifetime of obscurity, this man is poised for a breakout. Catch him on his third CD, Live from the Saxon Pub.

Readers’ Choice: Johnny Cash


Best Country Acoustic

Adrienne Young & Little Sadie

With her creamy voice and masterful songwriting skills, Adrienne Young has created contemporary Acoustic music firmly rooted in American musical heritage. Her first CD, Plow to the End of the Row, is an extraordinary collection of original and traditional songs. There are upbeat, hopeful celebrations of joy and tales of tragedy, too. All have an infectious energy, which makes you feel so much better after listening than you did before.

Readers’ Choice: Chris LeDoux


Best Contemporary, Honky-Tonk Country

Moot Davis

Moot is a newcomer on the scene, but don’t let that stop you. On his eponymous, self-titled debut CD, Moot brings a fully fledged set of original Country songs. These are songs just as you’d hear in the most authentic honky-tonks in the West. Moot claims Hank Williams and Johnny Cash as major influences, and those souls do shine through. Pete Anderson arranged, produced and played on this recording. Pete is the multi-platinum, Grammy award-winning producer of so many Dwight Yoakam albums we all love.


Best Western Swing

Hot Club of Cowtown

For real, honest-to-goodness Western Swing, it just doesn’t get any better than Hot Club. This power trio has been amazing and delighting all who see their shows for about five years. The skill levels of these musicians are unsurpassed, as is their enthusiasm for their music. Continental Stomp is their fifth release and was recorded live at the legendary Continental Club in Austin, Texas. They tour extensively, so look for them in your town—and get ready to swing.

Readers’ Choice: Bob Wills


Best Alt/Country/Rock

James McMurtry & the Heartless Bastards

Following up his superb Saint Mary of the Woods, James McMurtry has released Live in Aught-Three in an attempt to capture the electricity of his live performances. He has long been known as a serious and perceptive songwriter, and now his works have become musically more dynamic and engaging with his maturity. His lyrics are not sugarcoated pop, but a real glimpse into run-down trailer parks and dusty side streets of the real world.

Readers’ Choice: Ray Wylie Hubbard


Best Alt/Country/Folk

Graham Parker

Known to only the most discerning music lovers, Graham Parker is one of the finest contemporary songwriters extant. After close to 30 albums in many genres, he has released Your Country. This veteran is an alchemist, creating nuggets of real-world gold from mere words and tones. His lyrics are so tightly intertwined as to amaze and delight even the most jaded. Graham is operating on more levels than most contemporary songwriters are even aware exist. If you love song, you need this recording.

Readers’ Choice: Red Steagall

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