Best of the West
- Published December 08, 2011
Here are the winners of our "2012 Best of the West." Sit back and see if your pick made the list.
BEST PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE WEST
Jay Dusard of Douglas, Arizona, is no stranger to the readers of True West as he has written about, and we have published, his fine photos on master horsemen like Monk Maxwell. His emotive images capture the power and grandeur of the West as few have before or since. Dusard was chosen for the new Phoenix Art Museum’s West Select, which premiered this past October. Jay also plays a mean jazz cornet, but that’s another topic.
Reader’s Choice: David R. Stoecklein • Ketchum, ID • StoeckleinPhotography.com
BEST RAILROAD OF THE WEST
Verde Canyon Railroad
This 20-mile ride is not only majestic, with its spectacular earthy canyons, Indian ruins and Bald Eagle sightings on the river side, it is also extremely viewer friendly, with its open gondola cars. Plus, you get to see remnants of Perkinsville, featured in How the West Was Won (which you can now watch in its remastered Blu-ray glory). Our residential train expert, Jim Clark, cites the Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarkdale, Arizona, as a “well run railroad” with “well maintained rolling stock and streamliner locomotives.”
READER’S CHOICE: Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad • Durango, CO • DurangoTrain.com
BEST NEXT GENERATION RANCHER
Josh Hoy of Flying W Ranch
To carry on the traditions of his grandfather Kenneth Hoy as a Flint Hills rancher, Josh Hoy has diversified the family ranching operation at the Flying W Ranch near Cedar Point, Kansas. With wife Gwen, Josh is teaching daughter Josie the skills necessary to running cattle on the prairies of Kansas (yes, this youngster is up at 3 a.m. to help her parents herd cattle). The family operates an agri-tourism business where they give visitors an opportunity to gather cattle from pastures, brand calves in the corral, spend time in the modern bunkhouse or enjoy a gourmet meal prepared by Josh, who attended the Culinary Institute of America.
READER’S CHOICE: Jayce Doan of Rolling Plains Adventures Ranch • McKenzie, ND • RollingPlainsAdventures.com
BEST GUEST RANCH OF THE WEST
Klondike Ranch in Buffalo, WY
Five miles from the sites of the 1892 Johnson County Cattle War and battle at the TA Ranch is Klondike Ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming. Established in 1886, the working cattle ranch in the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains celebrated its 125th anniversary last year. Its guests herd Black Baldies from pasture to ranch, ride horseback along a stagecoach trail and attend local rodeos. This authentic ranch inspires folks to experience more of the true West. After staying there this past August, 60ish New York suburbanite Mary Ann Whitehouse told her local newspaper, Wellsville Daily Reporter, “Now we’re thinking of doing a true cattle drive.” Thank you Tass family, for keeping the camaraderie and history alive at the Klondike.
READER’S CHOICE: Bar W Guest Ranch • Whitefish, MT • BarWGuestRanch.com
BEST POET OF THE WEST
The cowboy poet and NPR humorist from Benson, Arizona, took a different approach to his poetry this past year; he released his Lessons from a Desperado Poet to share his advice on growing a successful publishing following. The book’s subtitle revealed some lessons learned while he worked as the vet for a “hardheaded Basque named John Basabe.” These were: how to find your way when you don’t have a map (always valuable), how to win the game when you don’t know the rules (make them up?) and when someone says it can’t be done, what they really mean is they can’t do it (very true). Not only is this a fun read, but you also learn a lot about the cowboy poet that brings insight to the poems we all love and enjoy. You’ll find lots of laughs here too; who else but Baxter Black could conquer today’s technology without owning a cell phone?
READER’S CHOICE: Baxter Black • Benson, AZ • BaxterBlack.com
BEST NONFICTION WRITER
This three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee from Tulsa, Oklahoma, hit the road in 2011 in a big way. He collaborated with his wife, Suzanne, and our publisher emeritus, Robert G. McCubbin, on a photo-terrific, day-by-day pioneer chronicle (The Wild West: 365 Days); he released an impressive American hero biography (David Crockett: The Lion of the West) that got him an appearance with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show; and he ended the year with a follow-up to his Route 66 travelogue, The Lincoln Highway, taking folks from Times Square to Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe he covered so much ground because he actually is a 1949 Mercury Club Coupe; okay, not possible, but we bet the kiddies would like to believe the Cars sheriff of Radiator Springs is real...and he is, but with even more prestige: he’s the nonfiction king of the year!
READER’S CHOICE: Michael Wallis • Tulsa, OK • MichaelWallis.com
BEST HISTORICAL WESTERN NOVELIST
Richard S. Wheeler
This Livingston, Montana, novelist won his sixth Spur Award in 2010 making him the most recognized living Western writer and second only to the late (and great) Elmer Kelton. But Wheeler is not content to sit on his laurels, which also include a Wister Award from Western Writers of America for Lifetime Achievement. In 2011 he turned out two fine new novels: The First Dance, based on the settlement of Livingston, MT, by the Metis people, and The Richest Hill on Earth, set in the mining community of Butte, MT, proving that there are many interesting stories yet to be told about the American West, and they don’t all involve cowboys or outlaws.
READER’S CHOICE: Johnny D. Boggs • Santa Fe, NM • JohnnyDBoggs.com
BEST OLD WEST BOOK OF 2011
Empire of the Summer Moon by Scribner
Seems like everywhere we went this past year, folks stopped us to gush about Empire of the Summer Moon. Author S.C. Gwynne had told such a masterful tale that when the paperback release came out, the book made its way into beach bags all over the nation. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, Empire of the Summer Moon offers a gripping narrative of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, his white mother Cynthia Ann and Texas Indian fighter Ranald Mackenzie. Gwynne thinks he first heard about Comanches from watching a John Wayne movie, but he never really knew who they were. We’re glad he took the time to find out.
READER’S CHOICE: The Last Gunfight by Jeff Guinn, published by Simon & Schuster • SimonAndSchuster.com
BJ’s Tombstone History Discussion Forum
For nearly 13 years, BJ’s Tombstone History Discussion Forum has been a “must visit” site for folks interested in the “Town Too Tough to Die.” Most of the true Tombstone experts (including Jeff Morey, Casey Tefertiller and even Glenn Boyer) have presented their thoughts, latest research and theories. The information is fascinating, the postings are often controversial and the debates are thought provoking. Even newcomers to the field can find much of interest at BJ’s.
READER’S CHOICE: BBB’s blog by Bob Boze Bell • Cave Creek, AZ • BlogTrueWestMagazine.com
BEST FINE ART PAINTER
Gary Ernest Smith
His rural field and barn paintings hang in many museums, but it is Gary Ernest Smith’s work with the legends of the West that wins him this year’s nod as Best Fine Art Painter. Gary is a big fan of the Old West, and his images of Billy the Kid are some of the best in the field. Painting in the clean style of Maynard Dixon, Smith reveals a sharp eye and desert palette that capture the Old West brilliantly. Although his studio is nestled in the mountains of the Bull River country in Highland, Utah, Gary is fearless and often paints en plein air to sharpen his skills.
READER’S CHOICE: Bill Owen • Kirkland, AZ • BillOwenCA.com
BEST ORIGINAL PERIOD WESTERN PAINTER
Whether he’s painting cutout Indians on plywood to place on a San Francisco beach, or paintings of the O.K. Corral from every angle in pop art colors with tiny head caricatures of the principals, Thom Ross of Seattle, Washington, makes sure the important historic details are correct. For example, when he paints the cowboys waiting for the Earps to show, only two, Frank McLaury and Billy Clanton, have on gunbelts (which matches the Spicer hearing accounts). And Tom McLaury has his shirt tails out, also from the hearing. Granted, the boys appear to be being wearing high heels, as in female evening dress, but never mind, Ross rocks!
READER’S CHOICE: Buck Taylor • Marrero, LA • BuckTaylor.com
BEST SCULPTOR OF THE WEST
When your work can be found in the Museum of Modern Art and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, you’re famous. But when it’s also next to the Shroud of Turin and carried by the Pope, you’d make Charlie Russell and Donatello envious. Gib Singleton of Santa Fe, New Mexico, moves from religious and Western topics with ease, producing edgy work that will move you. In 2011, his Pony Express touched fans and collectors even before it was finished. “I can put something into a piece,” Singleton says. “It doesn’t necessarily have all ten fingers or both legs, but it can say everything.”
READER’S CHOICE: John Coleman of Coleman Studios • Prescott, AZ • ColemanStudios.com
BEST WESTERN ART GALLERY
Due West Gallery
Men and women in hats, chaps and boots crowding to get inside a gallery in a city known for Georgia O’Keeffe and a world-renown opera? Give Thom Ross credit for turning Santa Fe, New Mexico’s art scene on its ear. Due West isn’t just showing contemporary takes on Western history; it is teaching history with in-gallery symposiums. Yes, Ross does carry Bob Boze Bell (hey, we like Buckeye Blake better), but we’d honor Due West anyway because of Ross’s vision, creativity and the carnage he’s likely to cause in City Different.
READER’S CHOICE: Hal Empie Studio-Gallery • Tubac, AZ • HalEmpieStudio-Gallery.com
BEST AUCTION HOUSE
Brian Lebel’s Old West Show & Auction
When the only known photo of Billy the Kid went up on the auction block this past June, we bet it would clear at least half a million dollars. Our June cover said as much. Yet we were practically blown out of our seats at the end of those two-and-a-half minutes when the hammer fell in Denver, Colorado, on Bill Koch’s $2 million bid. What we weren’t surprised about was that it happened at Brian Lebel’s auction. Lebel is serious about authenticating the artifacts that hit his auction block, which is why both sellers and collectors trust him. Only the best Western collectibles are found here.
READER’S CHOICE: High Noon Western Americana • Mesa, AZ • HighNoon.com
Surrounded on two sides by the central El Paso highway known as the “Spaghetti Bowl” and with a backdrop of the Franklin Mountains, Concordia Cemetery is still the cemetery to beat. Easily the most famous person buried here is gunfighter John Wesley Hardin; he’s joined by John Selman, the man who killed Hardin in 1895, and Jeff Melton, who owned the Acme Saloon where Hardin was shot. Add to that the graves of the Buffalo Soldiers and the Chinese rail laborers and numerous other pioneers, and you’ve got the perfect place to pay your respect to influencers of Old West history. Local re-enactors bring these folks to life in popular walking tours. Everyone pulls together here to allow us all to experience this incredible historic cemetery.
READER’S CHOICE: Tombstone Boot Hill • Tombstone, AZ
BEST HISTORIC HOTEL
First, the bona fides: the General Palmer was built in Durango, Colorado, in 1898 and was known throughout the West for its Victorian elegance. Named in honor of the builder of the Durango-Silverton Railroad, it doesn’t hurt that the trains leave right beyond the entrance, allowing you to sit on the balcony of the General Palmer and wave to departing passengers, as surely as General Palmer himself must have waved from this exact spot. If you need any more bona fides, the hotel has been awarded a Four Diamond Rating from the American Automobile Association for 33 consecutive years. This is the real deal, with heritage, luxury and consistency.
READER’S CHOICE: St. James Hotel • Cimarron, NM • ExStJames.com
Lincoln, New Mexico, is Billy the Kid’s fave town, and it looks almost exactly how it did 135 years ago. That is remarkable. But what’s even more remarkable is that you can stay in one of his haunts, the Ellis Store, a rambling, adobe ranch house on the edge of town where the Kid and other Regulators stayed during the infamous Lincoln County War. The grounds are beautiful, with a grassy front lawn and sprawling, old trees that tower over the property. The frosting on the cake is that the owners serve some of the best gourmet food you will ever eat anywhere. Good history, relaxing luxury and exquisite food, morning, noon and night.
READER’S CHOICE: Nagle Warren Mansion B&B • Cheyenne, WY • NagleWarrenMansion.com
BEST MOUNTED RE-ENACTMENT
Defeat of Jesse James Days
We’re keeping our eyes out for another mounted re-enactment that’s as exciting as this one, but we haven’t seen it yet. These volunteers fall off their horses when “shot;” they don’t just run around in circles and shoot blanks at each other. The story is good too, as the armed townspeople on the ground get the better of the James-Younger Gang, whose members were trying to rob two Northfield, Minnesota, banks that autumn day in 1876. The costumes are authentic. The story is authentic. The show is authentic...and fantastic. Don’t miss it.
READER’S CHOICE: Real Bird’s Little BIghorn Re-enactment • Near Crow Agency, MT • LittleBighornReenactment.com
BEST RE-ENACTMENT GROUP
San Antonio Living History Association
For the Alamo’s 175th anniversary, re-enactors from Texas’s San Antonio Living History Association put on a weekend to remember in March, as they dramatized the final two days of the battle that led to Santa Anna’s Army defeating the Alamo’s defenders. Throughout the year, the re-enactors also engaged the public at Alamo Plaza by hosting free demonstrations sharing the lifestyle of early San Antonio. These custodians of the Alamo paid justice to the men they portrayed.
READER’S CHOICE: Nevada Gunfighters • Carson City, NV • NVGunfighters.com
BEST WESTERN FILM FESTIVAL
Lone Pine Film Festival
Not even Monument Valley means more than the surreal Lone Pine smooth boulders, with their craggy deserts, home of Mount Whitney and Alabama Hills. Comanche Station and Tremors, Jim Rockford, Randolph Scott, True Grit (Wayne) and Joe Kidd; the legacy honors 22 years of the Lone Pine Film Festival, with its unique Star Panel discussions and extensive screenings of films, Westerns B and A and somewhere in between, including the Star Parade, a rodeo and an arts and crafts fair. However the stars, the characters and the wonderful events are actually greater than the sum of the total, which is exactly why it is such a fantastic festival.
BEST WILD WEST SHOW
Great American Wild West Show
Touring since 1996, under the banner of the Great American Wild West Show in Branson, Missouri, Don Endsley and his partner and wife Sharon have worked many long days and months to perfect a 1 3/4-hour show that unites the best trick riders, stunt teams, stagecoaches and Wild West splendor with special effects and state-of-the-art theatrical equipment. We salute Don and Sharon for having the guts and the stamina to take a show of this size on the road, and to do it consistently, year after year.
BEST STEAMPUNK EXPO
Steampunk Expo at Old Cowtown
All of us care about the authenticity of our Old West gear, but sometimes we just want to have fun with it. Steampunk expositions allow you to do just that; you can mix and match your favorite pieces without worrying too much about whether or not they fit together in a specific time and locale. The twist is that you’ll want to throw in modern-day gadgets, say your cellphone, and give them a Victorian aesthetic. The best one we’ve seen devoted to the Wild West form of Steampunk is the expo at Old Cowtown in Wichita, Kansas. Normally such expos are held in some run-of-the-mill convention hall. But folks can really get into the spirit walking around Old Cowtown’s drovers camp, traders area and 1870s residential street.
BEST PRESERVED FORT
The re-created Jim Bridger trading post at Fort Bridger in Fort Bridger, Wyoming, sells goods to visitors and is but one of the reasons to visit this fort, which has recently upgraded exhibits to include a children’s play area, emigrant camp setting and military display. These exhibits help visitors understand the significance of this post that served overland emigrant travelers, Mormons and the frontier military. Today, the fort is the site of the largest mountain man rendezvous in the Intermountain West, held annually during the Labor Day weekend.
READER’S CHOICE: Fort Concho • San Angelo, TX • FortConcho.com
BEST PERIOD WESTERN CLOTHING FOR MEN
Scully started out in 1906, Napa, California, making leather helmets and bomber jackets that warmed American aviators in both World Wars. In 1993, Scully acquired Wah-Maker, a line of accurately styled, Victorian-era clothing for men and women that was popular not only with re-enactors, but also with Western lifestyle enthusiasts from all walks of life. With WahMaker and its lower-priced sibling, RangeWear, the family-owned business continues to produce authentic Old West apparel and accessories. The company also makes clothes that resonate from the early days of Western styling and cowboy movies, as well as contemporary Western and leather apparel, to appeal to every taste in contemporary and retro Western design.
READER’S CHOICE: Wild West Mercantile Brand • Mesa, AZ • WildWestMercantile.com
BEST PERIOD WESTERN CLOTHING FOR WOMEN
“Thank you so much for the outstanding workmanship on my calico ball gown I wore this weekend,” wrote Kelly, a fan of Recollections in Hawks, Michigan. “I felt like I did on my wedding day, and for that I can’t thank you enough!” Tammy B. was looking forward to showing off her twill skirt with petticoat at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. Wendy B. gushed about the red “Soiled Doves” dress she bought for her Wild West Ghost Town costume party. With more than 600 styles ranging from the Civil War era to the Roaring ‘20s, Recollections is bound to have something grand that will make you, or the lady in your life, feel special too.
READER’S CHOICE: Wild West Mercantile Brand • Mesa, AZ • WildWestMercantile.com
BEST MODERN WESTERN CLOTHING FOR MEN
Phillip Miller, founder of Denver-based retailer Miller Stockman (nee Stockman Farmer Supply Co., 1918), began making Miller Western apparel in the 1930s. The company was renamed Rocky Mountain Clothing Co. in 1992 to capitalize on its wildly popular Rocky Mountain brand of jeans. To commemorate the company’s heritage as a pioneer in Western apparel, Rocky Mountain Clothing Co. launched the Miller Ranch Collection in 2009. From its impeccably tailored twill and wool shirts to the stylishly efficient ranch and riding jackets, Miller Ranch sets the gold standard for classic Western styling and high quality.
READER’S CHOICE: Miller Ranch by Rocky Mountain Clothing Co. • Denver, CO • RockyMountainClothing.com
BEST MODERN WESTERN CLOTHING FOR WOMEN
With a love of history and an artist’s eye for fashion, Patricia Wolf has been a trendsetter in women’s Western fashion since 1976. Her leather jackets and skirts are often described as “wearable art”—customers have been known to display them on walls. Her garments frequently tell a story with their hand-painted designs, which are usually inspired by art drawn on Indian winter count hides or in Indian ledger books. When ponchos became the big garment to wear this past fall, she already had crowd pleasers in her serape-patterned vests, ponchos and jackets. And, by the way, all her products are made in little ol’ Smithville, Texas.
READER’S CHOICE: Double D Ranch Wear • Yoakum, TX • DDRanchWear.com
BEST BOOTMAKER MANUFACTURER
Established in San Antonio, Texas, in 1883, Lucchese built a reputation for comfort, quality and elegance that is unparalleled in Western boots. From Sam Lucchese Jr.’s innovative fit to the clean, classic styling preferred by “gentleman ranchers” to recent forays into edgier, more contemporary footwear and accessories for women, this venerable bootmaker now based in El Paso remains the Cadillac of cowboy boots.
READER’S CHOICE: Ariat International • Union City, CA • Ariat.com
BEST BOOTMAKER SMALL SHOP
Little’s Boot Shop
It’s no secret this is a tough time to be in business. Imagine, if you will, a small shoe repair shop founded in 1915 by Lucien Little in San Antonio, Texas. Through pluck and luck, the family business survived the Great Depression and, by the 1940s, Lucien’s son, Ben, began making boots for the local ranchers and cowboys. Ben built up a loyal following and passed the business and love of bootmaking on to his sons, John and Dave. After Dave’s daughter Sharon, who grew up working in the shop, graduated from the University of Texas with a Business degree, she brought her knowledge to the boot shop. Now this is a family business with tradition, perseverance and style. We salute you!
READER’S CHOICE: Paul Bond Boot Co. • Nogales, AZ • PaulBondBoots.com
BEST HATMAKER MANUFACTURER
Beaver Brand makes the very best quality hats with style (the company’s 1860 Old West Collection is superb, with prices running from $145 to the $650 range). Unlike many of the newer hat companies, Beaver Brand does not use the X rating to excess, explaining, “Since there is not an industry standard for quality ratings, each hat company can rate their products as they see fit. This is why you will find 100X, 1,000X or more from other hat manufacturers.” Hats off to a great company with solid credentials and a storied history.
READER’S CHOICE: Stetson • Garland, TX • StetsonHat.com
BEST HATMAKER SMALL SHOP
Baldwin’s Custom Hats
Gene Baldwin makes hats the old fashioned way in his shop at Sisters, Oregon, but he plays with the big boys. He just won a Best Hat national award for his latest design, beating out many big hat companies at Art of the Cowboy Makers in Loveland, Colorado. Gene’s theme is “Gotcha Covered,” and he means it, making each hat with machines he has collected from the 1880s. Baldwin also specializes in custom hat bands with your choice of Indian bead work, porcupine quills, horsehair or, well, you name it; if it fits on the crown of your new hat, Gene’s gotcha covered!
READER’S CHOICE: Rand’s Custom Hats • Billings, MT • RandHats.com
BEST CHUCKWAGON CONTEST
Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium
The Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium in Ruidoso, New Mexico, has been doing its thing for 22 years straight, and the backbone of the popular Western festival (23,000 paying customers attended last year’s three-day celebration) is the World Championship Chuckwagon Competition, with $13,000 in prizes. The gregarious and hearty competitors are judged on the quality of the food and on the authenticity of their wagons and their attire. And these wagons are not cheap, with some going for up to $120,000 (not bad appreciation, for a wagon that sold new for $64). One word of advice, get there early and buy tickets to Sunday morning’s biscuits and gravy breakfast, because tickets go fast and the food goes quick.
READER’S CHOICE: National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration’s Chuck Wagon Cook-Off • Lubbock, TX • Cowboy.org
Bisbee Breakfast Club
Okay, so it’s technically located in Lowell, Arizona, not Bisbee, but owner Chris Reece was smart to tie his cafe to its extremely close neighbor. This place is usually packed, whether it’s breakfast or lunch time. We never go to Bisbee without stopping for a meal here. Not only are the huevos rancheros and the salads delectable, but also the ambience is fun, as the converted glass factory makes for interesting rooms to spread out the diners. When you stumble out of there with a full belly, just be sure you don’t fall into that mining pit.
READER’S CHOICE: Rock Springs Café • Rock Springs, AZ • RockSpringsCafe.com
The smell alone is enough to drive a vegetarian into shock. An eating institution in Santa Fe, New Mexico, since 1953, the Bobcat features mouthwatering steaks and pork chops, thick grilled cheese sandwiches and superb cole slaw. But what delights most crowds—and radio’s “The Splendid Table,” TV’s The Food Network, magazines GQ, Travel & Leisure and Gourmet, and George Motz, author of Hamburger America—are the hamburgers (10-ounce freshly ground chuck and sirloin monsters), specifically the famed green-chile cheeseburger. John and Bonnie Eckre, the Bobcat’s owners since May 2001, are America’s burger royalty.
READER’S CHOICE: Buckhorn Exchange • Denver, CO • Buckhorn.com
BEST SALOON OF THE WEST
Bucket of Blood Saloon
Oftentimes we consider ourselves lucky enough to get to walk through an authentic watering hole and, perhaps, if the place is still operated, grab a drink or two with some friends. But how often do you get to walk into an 1876 saloon, with its Old West furnishings and beautiful view window of the Nevada mountains, and find yourself in a full house packed with period-dressed docents dancing to the music of John David and the Comstock Cowboys? Well, if you’re in Virginia City, Nevada, on a Sunday, that’s the scene you’ll find at Bucket of Blood. We’ve always loved this historic landmark, not least of all because it has been run by McBride & Sons since 1931. But these McBrides have taken this place to another level of respectability, and for that, they deserve our highest honor.
READER’S CHOICE: River City Saloon • Old Sacramento, CA • TheRiverCitySaloon.com
BEST PRESERVATION EFFORT OF THE WEST
Galveston Railroad Museum
After Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston in September 2008, most people might have given up after one look at the railroad museum’s display cases floating “like corks in a swimming pool” and the $6.5 million worth of damages to antique locomotives and model trains. In fact, one Galveston museum did do that—the Lone Star Flight Museum, which sustained $18 million in damages, left for Houston in 2011. But this railroad museum chugged on, with a rebuilding effort led by Morris Gould, countless volunteers, FEMA and donations from the Moody Foundation, which first created the museum in 1983. The staff is still working hard to repair and replace what was lost, but the museum did reopen last March. We’re heartened to see some rolling stock has been returned to the mile-and-a-half track. Keep on chugging, Galveston Railroad Museum!
READER’S CHOICE: Nevada Northern Railway • Ely, NV • NNRY.com
BEST SINGLE ACTION SHOOTER
Randi Rogers a.k.a. Holy Terror
Randi Rogers’ Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) handle is Holy Terror, an apt alias. Only 24, she won the Cowgirl category at the 30th annual End of Trail World Championship of Cowboy Action Shooting, held last June. Amazingly, it was her ninth World title in 10 years. The Smyrna, Georgia, resident was even elected to the SASS Hall of Fame in 2010. Holy Terror is likely to put a scare into the competition for years to come.
READER’S CHOICE: Evil Roy • Durango, CO • EvilRoyShootingSchool.com
BEST COWBOY MOUNTED SHOOTER
They call Chad Little “Hollywood”—a joke, because he’s anything but flashy. But the button-down Minnesotan is in the spotlight of cowboy mounted shooting, and he has been for the last six years. Chad, at one time or another, has set world records on almost every Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA) certified course. He grabbed the top honors at the 2010 World Championships and 2011 Nationals. So Hollywood or not, Chad Little is a big star in mounted shooting.
READER’S CHOICE: Kenda Lenseigne • Ellensburg, WA • KendaLenseigne.com
BEST SINGLE ACTION ARMY
Peacemaker by Colt Mfg. Co.
While it may be argued which firearm actually won the West, there’s no denying that Colt’s classic 1873 Peacemaker is one of the lasting icons of the Old West. Still hand fitted and finished at Colt’s Custom shop, this handsome, well-balanced and straight-shooting six-gun was a favorite on the frontier. With Colt celebrating 175 years of firearms excellence last year, many folks got another look at why the Peacemaker remains the premier single action with today’s cowboy shooters and collectors alike.
BEST REPEATING RIFLE
1873 RIFLE by Cimarron Fire Arms
Cimarron Fire Arms’s attention to period details offers the Old West purist 10 different detail-perfect, smooth handling, straight shooting replicas that hold up to close scrutiny. The company’s impressive firearms include its short 16-inch “Trapper” models and standard length carbines and rifles. A major stand-out firearm is the 30-inch “Long Range” rifle, featuring half-round/half-octagon barrel models, with original patent improvements and date stampings, “Model 1873,” on the tang, and charcoal blued and polished screws—as found on the original 1870s arms.
BEST SINGLE SHOT RIFLE
1874 SHARPS by Shiloh
Famed for their long range shooting capabilities, the Sharps was dubbed the “shoot today, kill tomorrow gun” by American Indians. Shiloh continues the tradition of these powerful and accurate single-shot buffalo rifles with the company’s museum-quality line of 1874 Sharps reproductions. Manufactured in several frontier calibers—like the .40-70. .44-77, .45-70, .45-110, and the .50-90 Sharps Straight—the beautiful, custom-manufactured Shiloh Sharps will serve the big-game hunter and target shooter well.
BEST AUTHENTIC MOVIE GUNS
Keith Walters’ True Grit guns
The Coen brothers’ film version of Charles Portis’s novel offers a virtual “gun show” of cool Old West shooting irons from the moment you first see Mattie Ross’s capped 2nd Model Colt Dragoon to Ranger LaBeouf’s ivory-stocked, pre-1896 framed Peacemaker Colt and on to “Lucky” Ned Pepper’s 1875 Remington six-shooter. Prop man Keith Walters’ attention to period detail is superb, and the weaponry of the original story is a treat for any Old West gun buff.
BEST DOUBLE DERRINGER
Cowboy Defender by Bond Arms
All American made, these handy little pocket pistols combine the simplicity of an Old West hideout derringer with modern innovations, such as heavy duty stainless steel, a rebounding-and-locking hammer (automatically jumps back into half-cock position), a spring loaded barrel to ease opening and closing, and 16 different barrels in 22 chamberings (14 barrels are interchangeable). This SASS-approved two-shooter is perfect for fun or defensive shooting.
BEST COWBOY ACTION FIREARM
New Model Vaquero by Sturm, Ruger & Co.
Exhibiting more refined lines than the old model, Ruger’s New Vaquero is just about a spitting image of the classic Peacemaker with its beveled cylinder (for ease of holstering), larger crescent-shaped ejector head and original pre-1962 style grip frame and “hard rubber” checkered grips. Ruger’s patented reverse indexing pawl for ease of loading and its coil spring main spring make the Vaquero a tough working tool for the cowboy action shooter.
READER’S CHOICE: New Model Vaquero by Sturm, Ruger & Co. • Newport, NH • Ruger.com
BEST GUNLEATHER ARTISAN
Rich Bachman of Old West Reproductions
Rick Bachman of Florence, Montana, has been handcrafting his museum-quality gunleather “in the tradition of the Old West” since 1978. His offerings, which also include cowboy gear like rifle scabbards, saddle pockets, cuffs and spur leathers, are made of the same weight leather as the originals in his vast collection. If you’re hankerin’ for cowboy leather that looks like the “gun-u-wine” article, look no further!
READER’S CHOICE: Rich Bachman • Florence, MT • OldWestReproductions.com
BEST WESTERN KNIFEMAKER
Bob Giles of Cowboy Bob’s Frontier Trappings
The blades made by this Whitefish, Montana, artisan could fool the experts. Using recycled circular sawmill blades, Bob Giles handcrafts frontier-era Bowies that range from the huge clip-point fighting knives of the pre-Civil War era to the smaller hunting blades of the late 19th century. He even fits them with period correct handles of exotic materials like ivory, pearl, stag, silver and ebony. They are truly a cut above the rest!
READER’S CHOICE: Ron Gregory • Farmington, KY • TheCowboyRides.com
BEST HISTORIC 100 YEARS BUSINESS
Arbuckle Coffee Roasters
The only company still making cowboy coffee (minus the egg) is Arbuckle’s in Tucson, Arizona. And this isn’t just any coffee; this was the coffee that Westerners drank. John and Charles Arbuckle, who began selling roasted coffee beans in 1865, figured out that sugar was in short supply in isolated areas like the Western frontier, so they added a peppermint stick to each bag. That combination made this popular chuckwagon fare. The same Ariosa beans sold from Tucson today are given an egg and sugar glaze, and still come with a peppermint stick. For those of us who enjoy a good cup of java, we’re sure glad Denny and Patricia Willis have kept this tradition alive.
READER’S CHOICE: Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel • Cody, WY • IrmaHotel.com
BEST MUSIC GROUP
Hot Club of Cowtown
Bassist Jake Ervin, guitarist Whit Smith and fiddler Elana James of Austin, Texas, are the most dynamic trio of entertainers on the road today, energizing audiences with their outstanding instrumental abilities as they practically set the stage on fire. You’ve not really heard “Orange Blossom Special” until you’ve listened to this classic tune from the strings of Elana’s fiddle. She takes a backseat to no one! Last year their touring style—and a new album What Makes Bob Hollar— combined jazz and Western swing as a tribute to Bob Wills.
BEST SOLO MUSICIAN
Even conversations with this cowgirl balladeer from Franklin, Tennessee, give off a sense of why folks are attracted to her guitar picking and songwriting. Juni Fisher had this big idea to tour with her fellow road warriors on a “good cruise ship job that circles the Bahamas, where we play one show every other night, don’t have to drive, and the audience is captivated and captive.” Her witty sense of humor is what keeps her listeners willing captives; this past year, she toured all over the West (no cruise ship yet) to connect with her fan base. Her “Yakima” song is one of our favorites. “The devil combed the horses’ tails that mornin’ and dragged his evil fingers through their manes. And the riders in the pen, they got no warnin,’ they’d all be drawing zeros by their name...By God, that Yakima could ride.”
READER’S CHOICE: Dave Stamey • Nipomo, CA • DaveStamey.com
BEST FIDDLE PLAYER IN A MASH-UP $250 MILLION WESTERN
Rex Rideout in Cowboys & Aliens by Universal Pictures
Multi-instrumental Rex Rideout, a fiddling ghost rider from Conifer, Colorado, wins prizes, tours with friends (including Mark Gardner and other stringing grouped illuminators) and illustrates a Billy the Kid exhibit in Albuquerque in 2007. But Rex scorched wood when Paul Hutton first met him at a Western Writers of American convention, bringing the same joke version of the bar theme from Star Wars to Cowboys & Aliens. Once director Jon Favreau realized that Rex was kidding, the fiddler jumped on a perfect version of “Lorena,” the great Civil War ballad from John Ford’s The Searchers. Rex not only plays the song in the movie, but he has the proverbial close-up in the saloon scene. Sometimes lightning does strike twice.
BEST INDIE WESTERN
Blackthorn by Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blackthorn was one of two outstanding independent Westerns to come into American theaters through the back door in 2011 (The other: Meek’s Cutoff). The story of an aging Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepard), who escapes death and longs to return to America from his horse farm in Bolivia, reminds us that Cassidy’s fate is to always be one step ahead of faceless pursuers on horseback. It’s a fine, sharp, melancholy Western from Spanish director Mateo Gil.
READER’S CHOICE: Livin’ by the Gun by Millerosa Productions • Angels Camp, CA • LivinByTheGun.com
BEST WESTERN DOCUMENTARY
Buck by Cedar Creek Productions
“Horses are my life,” says Buck Brannaman, who was a consultant on the book and the movie The Horse Whisperer. But horses are not the real subject of Buck, nor is Brannaman exactly, which is why it’s such a fine film. It’s about succumbing to, or somehow rising above, bruised instincts and childhood trauma (Brannaman was severely abused as a child), with horses functioning as mirrors to the soul. Brannaman teaches empathy—a skill that often comes hard. Buck is nowhere near as simple a movie as it appears.
READER’S CHOICE: Buck by Cedar Creek Productions • Georgetown, CT • BuckTheFilm.com
BEST CLASSIC WESTERN DVD
Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938 by National Film Preservation Foundation
Treasures 5: The West, 1898-1938 is a three-disc DVD collection of American features and shorts, some recently discovered in New Zealand, that shows the reality of the West and the fictionalized West, which co-existed in a remarkable way, way back when. You’ll watch features, travelogues and newsreels, mostly made during the silent era, and each movie has commentary, music, written essays and descriptions. Treasures is a perfect description for this box set, and it’s the most consistently fascinating and entertaining DVD release of the year, hands down.
BEST MODERN WESTERN DVD
Rango Blu-ray Combo by Paramount Pictures
Modern is a tricky category, which means we get to name more than one. If by Modern, we mean a 21st-century, remastered take of a 20th-century classic, the Blu-ray of Sergio Leone’s epic Once Upon a Time in the West, starring Charles Bronson, Henry Fonda and Claudia Cardinale, has been made doubly beautiful to look at, and doubly fantastic to hear, and it’s loaded with extras. It is a Modern classic, and a work of art. Yet we usually mean a 21st-century Western; in that case, there are only two choices: Rango and True Grit, which are both available in Blu-ray combo packages with a wealth of additional goodies. After careful consideration, we have to pick the fantastically entertaining Rango, which just gets better with each viewing.
READER’S CHOICE: True Grit (Coen Brothers) by Paramount Pictures • TrueGritMovie.com
BEST WESTERN FILM DIRECTOR
Mateo Gil for Blackthorn by Magnolia Home Entertainment
The Coens did a fine job of keeping True Grit simple and capturing a few strong performances, but for Best Director, I have to hand it to Mateo Gil for Blackthorn, which made our beloved Butch Cassidy a stranger in a strange, yet somehow incredibly familiar land, high up in the Bolivian mountains. It was a perfect and poetic reimagining of a great tragic desperado.
READER’S CHOICE: Jon Favreau for Cowboys & Aliens by Universal Pictures • CowboysAndAliensMovie.com
BEST WESTERN FILM ACTOR
Sam Shepard for Blackthorn by Magnolia Home Entertainment
Again, Sam Shepard in Blackthorn edges out Jeff Bridges in True Grit, because he kept Cassidy tight, whereas Bridges often seemed uncertain of how broadly he ought to play Rooster Cogburn.
READER’S CHOICE: Daniel Craig for Cowboys & Aliens by Universal Pictures • CowboysAndAliensMovie.com
BEST WESTERN FILM ACTRESS
Isla Fisher for Rango by Paramount Pictures
Hailee Steinfeld turned in a solid first-timer performance in True Grit, but the Scottish-Australian actress Isla Fisher, as a frontier lizard-lady with too many defense mechanisms in Rango, stole the show, and the category.
BEST MADE-FOR-TV WESTERN
Goodnight for Justice by Hallmark Movie Channel
Goodnight for Justice went through the roof as the Hallmark Movie Channel’s biggest ratings winner of the year, and this quiet revenge drama has already spawned two sequels, due in 2012.
BEST ACTOR IN A MADE-FOR-TV MOVIE
Luke Perry in Goodnight for Justice by Hallmark Movie Channel
Luke Perry, as a Wyoming circuit judge who dispenses justice like a slightly debauched Old West Atticus Finch, managed to pitch a fine, understated performance above what would have otherwise been a routine, middling TV Western in Goodnight for Justice.
BEST WESTERN FILM VISUALS
Rango by Paramount Pictures
Rango is every Western rolled into one, while adding a few new twists, and it uses the landscape the same way. Because it’s an animated film, folks might overlook how beautiful it is, but they shouldn’t. Watch the DVD with the sound off some time and see for yourself.
BEST WESTERN FILM SERIES
“What is a Western” at the Autry National Center
The Autry National Center in Los Angeles has been running a monthly series called “What is a Western,” which combines a screening of great Westerns with a discussion about how the movies mirrored larger cultural issues taking place in the West at the time of their releases. Among them have been Shane, Lonely are the Brave, starring Kirk Douglas, and Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. As a bonus: movie watchers also got to view artifacts from the film taken straight out of the museum’s impressive galleries.
BEST WESTERN FILM SCREENWRITER
Jonathan Raymond for Meek’s Cutoff by Oscilloscope Laboratories
Miguel Barros did a wonderful job of moving Butch Cassidy into the late 1920s, but with Meek’s Cutoff, Jonathan Raymond used a vast, indifferent landscape and tired silences to slowly tighten the knot in this otherworldly, yet true story of a handful of misled settlers desperate to survive a trek through the Oregon wilderness.
READER'S CHOICE: Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman for Cowboys & Aliens by Universal Pictures • CowboysAndAliensMovie.com
BEST WESTERN FILM OF THE YEAR
Rango by Paramount Pictures
Rango is silly and animated and full of weird desert creatures, and it’s the best Western of the year. Just because it’s funny doesn’t mean it isn’t serious.
READER’S CHOICE: Cowboys & Aliens by Universal Pictures • CowboysAndAliensMovie.com
Special Thanks to:
Henry Cabot Beck
Johnny D. Boggs
G. Daniel DeWeese