Monday, April 17, 2017

The Old American West

The old American West, the cattle trails, some of the best places to visit

FROM Texas Almanac

Cattle Drives Started in Earnest After the Civil War

No single endeavor has marked the image of Texas in the national mind more than the cattle drive. For more than a century, writers have romanticized the work and the life of the cowboy.
Cattle have been raised in Texas from the time the Spanish attempted to establish missions and domesticate the Indians, beginning in the mid-18th century.
It was primarily a small-scale industry during the Republic and early statehood. Most cattle were slaughtered for their hides and tallow, since the meat could not be preserved for long with the methods then used.
Many of the early cattle were longhorns, descendants of Spanish ranch and mission herds, with horn spreads of four to eight feet. Some had become crossed with Mexican cattle, shorter-horned and dun-colored. But there also were cattle of British origin, brought west by Anglo-American colonists from the East Coast by way of Northeast Texas.

Early Cattle Drives
Early cattle drives headed west to the California gold fields after 1850, when cattle worth $5 to $10 a head in Texas would garner five to 20 times that amount in San Francisco. Most drives to California took five or six months.

Starting in the vicinity of San Antonio or Fredericksburg, many drives followed a southern route through El Paso to San Diego or Los Angeles and on north to San Francisco. These drives slowed by 1857, as the cattle market in California reached a glut. By 1859, only a trickle of cattle moved to the West Coast. After gold was discovered the 
Rocky Mountains, some cattle were driven to the gold fields there, starting about 1858.

Some ranchers held contracts to supply beef to frontier forts and to Indian reservations in West Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico beginning in the late 1850s. Cattle ranching virtually halted during the Civil War years, as the frontier retreated. Beginning in 1866, however, ranching – and cattle trailing – expanded rapidly.

Before the widespread use of fencing to separate cattle herds belonging to different owners, cowmen used brands and earmarks to identify their cattle. The use of brands to identify domestic cattle is an age-old practice. Burning identifying marks into the hides of animals and cutting a distinctively shaped piece out of one ear of each head of livestock were, until the relatively recent use of tattoos, the only methods of marking that would last the lifetime of the animal. The practice came to this country with the first Spanish.

In Spanish Texas, brands and earmarks were registered in brand books maintained by the ayuntamientos, or municipal councils. After 1778, the provincial government in San Antonio maintained an official brand book for all of Spanish Texas.

Brands on the early Anglo-Texas frontier were at first applied with "dotting irons," which required several applications to get an entire brand. There were basically three shapes of dotting irons: a straight line about three or four inches long, a small half-circle and a large half-circle. To make a "D," for instance, the straight line would be used vertically, then the large half-circle would be applied to form the curved part of the letter. Later, the more familiar stamping iron was used, in which the entire brand was placed in one application. After 1848 in Texas, the brand and earmark of each rancher could be registered with the county clerk, and theft of cattle with unregistered brands would not be prosecuted.

The Peak Period for Cattle Drives
Cattle drives to northern and western markets, and later to railroad-loading facilities, started in earnest in 1866, when an estimated 260,000 head of cattle crossed the Red River. The drives were conducted for only about 20 years, becoming unnecessary with the advent of the railroads and refrigeration in the 1880s.
Cattle drives usually began in the spring after roundup, as grass was available then and the herd could be delivered to its destination in the north before cold weather set in. Livestock from several different owners was usually included in a trail herd. The trail boss obtained documentation from each rancher noting the owner's brand, earmark and number of cattle. Then all animals in the drive were branded with the same road brand, regardless of ownership.
A 12-man crew could manage a herd of 2,000 to 3,000 head. The trail boss was the ultimate authority on the trail, like the captain of a ship, and was paid $100 to $125 a month. Of the rest of the crew, the cook was the most important, earning about $60 per month.

Legendary ranchman and trail driver Charles Goodnight invented the chuckwagon in 1866 for use by his crews. The chuckwagon, sometimes drawn by oxen, but usually by mules, carried not only food, utensils and a water barrel, but also tools and the crew's bed rolls. A fold-out counter, supported by one or two hinged legs, was used for food preparation. The wagon contained several drawers and shelves, with a "boot" or storage compartment underneath, all covered by a canvas top. The cook served beef and bison steaks, SOB stew (made from calf parts), "chuckwagon chicken" (bacon), "Pecos strawberries" (beans), "sourdough bullets" (biscuits) and cowboy coffee.
There were nine or 10 wranglers and drovers – sometimes called "thirty-dollar men" – per crew. The wrangler managed the herd of spare horses, known as the remuda, made up of eight or 10 horses for each man. The remaining drovers were appointed to their posts along the line of cattle in the drive.

Cattle do not trail in a group, but strung out in a long line. Several natural leaders usually take their places in front, while all the others fall into an irregular line behind them. A herd of 1,000 head might stretch out one to two miles on the trail. The drovers worked in pairs, one on either side of the line of animals. The best of the men were usually assigned to be "pointers," working near the head of the line. The remainder of the men worked the flank and swing positions farther back, with drag men bringing up the rear. Communication was by hand signals, adapted from Plains Indian sign language, or gestures with hats.

The drive would cover about 10 to 15 miles a day and, depending on what delays were encountered, a drive to western Kansas would take between 25 and 100 days.

On the Western Trail, through Fort Griffin, Comanches and Kiowas were threats until they were finally defeated and driven onto their reservations in Indian Territory. Other hazards included delays caused by flood-swollen rivers or, during droughts, thirsty animals becoming crazed at the smell of water.

The major cause of stampedes was lightning, but the herd could be spooked by any number of sights, smells and noises. To stop a stampede, the drovers nearest the head of the herd would get in front of the leaders and turn them to the right, causing them to move in a circle, then bring the rest of the herd into the circle as they approached. The riders would then make the circle smaller and smaller, until the entire herd was moving slowly in a tight circle.
When calves were born on the trail, the early practice was to kill them, because they could not keep up with the herd on their own. When calves came to have cash value, Charles Goodnight had a wagon made that would hold 30 to 40 calves. Any calves born on the trail would be picked up by the cowhands and put on the wagon for the day's drive. At night, they would be turned out with their mothers. A cow knows her calf by its smell, and Goodnight found that when he had several calves on the wagon, their scents got mixed. So he had his cowboys place each calf in a sack and number the sacks so that the same calf went into same sack each morning. They spent the day in sacks on the wagon and spent the night with their mothers.

While on the trail, the Goodnight outfit made use of home remedies for illnesses. Coal oil was used to combat lice, and prickly-pear poultices were thought to help wounds heal. Flowers of the bachelor's button plant were used to cure diarrhea, salt and bison tallow were used for piles, and bison-meat juice was drunk as a general tonic.

The Legendary Trails
The first cattle drives from Texas on the legendary Chisholm Trail headed north out of DeWitt County about 1866, crossing Central Texas toward the markets and railheads in Kansas. The trail was named for Indian trader Jesse Chisholm, who blazed a cattle trail in 1865 between the North Canadian and Arkansas rivers. That initial trail was expanded north and south by other drovers. The trail was not one fixed route. As one historian remarked, "trails originated wherever a herd was shaped up and ended wherever a market was found. A thousand minor trails fed the main routes."

Roughly, the Chisholm Trail went from the Rio Grande near Brownsville through Cameron, Willacy, Kleberg, Nueces, San Patricio, Bee, Karnes, Wilson, Guadalupe, Hays, Travis, Williamson, Bell, McLennan, Bosque, Hill, Johnson, Tarrant, Wise and Montague counties. It crossed the Red River and continued to Dodge City and Abilene, Kans. Another popular route approximately paralleled the main trail, but lay farther east. Fixed points on the trail, which all the drives on the Chisholm Trail used, were the crossing on the Colorado River near Austin; Brushy Creek near Round Rock; Kimball's Bend on the Brazos River; and the Trinity Ford in Fort Worth below the junction of the Clear and West forks.

The peak year on the Chisholm Trail was 1871. After interstate railroads came to Texas in the mid-1870s, trailing cattle to the Midwest became unnecessary. The Chisholm Trail was virtually shut down by the 1884 season.
The Goodnight-Loving Trail was one of the first of the post-war trails to be blazed across part of West Texas. Charles Goodnight established a herd of cattle in the Keechi Valley of Palo Pinto County in the late 1850s and ranged his cattle across Palo Pinto, Parker and Young counties.

After serving in the frontier militia during the war, Goodnight rounded up his cattle in the spring of 1866 and headed for the Rocky Mountain mining region. To avoid Indians, he decided to use the old Butterfield stagecoach route to the southwest, follow the Pecos River upstream and proceed northward to Colorado. This route was almost twice as long as the direct route, but it was much safer.

While buying supplies for this trip, he encountered Oliver Loving, and the two decided to join forces. The combined herd numbered about 2,000 head when they left their camp 25 miles southwest of Belknap on June 6, 1866. Their route took them past Camp Cooper, by the ruins of old Fort Phantom Hill, through Buffalo Gap, past Chadbourne, and across the North Concho River 20 miles above present-day San Angelo. They crossed the Middle Concho and followed it west to the Llano Estacado, crossed New Mexico and proceeded to Denver. With this drive, the Goodnight-Loving Trail was born.

Goodnight and Loving used this trail several times before Loving was mortally wounded in an Indian attack in New Mexico in September 1869. Just before he died, Loving made Goodnight promise to see that he was buried in his home cemetery in Weatherford. Loving's remains were temporarily interred in New Mexico while Goodnight and his outfit completed the drive. Returning to New Mexico, Goodnight had his cowboys flatten out all the old oil cans they could find and solder them together to make a tin casket. Loving's remains were placed into a wooden coffin, which was then put inside the tin casket. Powdered charcoal was packed between the two containers, and metal lid was sealed, and the whole contraption was crated and transported to Weatherford for burial. Loving's grave in Weatherford's Greenwood Cemetery has a Texas state historical marker.

Texas Fever Quarantines Cause Problems
Soon after the cattle drives began, stockmen and farmers in Missouri, incensed at outbreaks of "Texas fever," demanded that Texas cattle be banned from the state. Although called Texas fever, the tick-borne splenetic fever was first noticed in Pennsylvania as early as 1796, when cattle from the South were introduced. In the early 1800s, cattle from Georgia and South Carolina were banned from Virginia and North Carolina because they carried the disease.

Texas fever was noticed in Arkansas and Missouri after cattle from Texas were driven through in the 1850s, but since the Texas cattle remained healthy, their role as the carrier of the disease was discounted at first. But the rangy, tough longhorn was immune to Texas fever; cattle in other states were not. When the South Texas longhorns were trailed through, the ticks dropped off and found local cattle to feed on, transmitting the deadly disease. Some cattle drives from Texas were met with armed mobs in southeast Kansas, southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.
Even Texas cattlemen, principally Charles Goodnight and other Panhandle ranchers, posted cowhands armed with rifles at the southern boundaries of their lands to keep out tick-infested South Texas cattle, in what has come to be called the "Winchester Quarantine," in honor of the weapon used to enforce it.

It was not until 1889 that researchers isolated the tick Margaropus annulatus as the carrier of Texas fever. An immunization was finally developed in 1899 by Dr. Mark Francis, head of the veterinary school at Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, now Texas A&M University. By the turn of the century, a dipping process to rid the cattle of ticks had been developed and was widely used.

When Missouri banned Texas cattle, thus putting the Sedalia trail off-limits to drives originating in Texas, the trails moved west to go through Kansas Territory, and as settlement in Kansas moved ever westward, the cattle trails were pushed before them.

As the cattle drives were pushed westward, many trail bosses started using the Western or Dodge City Trail, also called the Fort Griffin Trail. It became the principal route north after 1876. Several feeder routes from the south merged at Fort Griffin, then proceeded northward through Throckmorton, Baylor and Wilbarger counties, leaving Texas at Doan's Crossing on the Red River in Wilbarger County. Other major trails crossed other areas of the state. The wily merchants of Fort Griffin sent a representative to Belton to intercept cattle drives to persuade the trail bosses to use the Western Trail, thereby bringing more business to Fort Griffin.

Demise of the Cattle Drives
Cattle prices increased fairly steadily from 1866 through 1870. As a result, the 1871 drive to Midwestern markets was the largest ever: 700,000 Texas cattle were driven to Kansas alone. But in 1871, the general economy was slack, and there were few buyers. Half the cattle remained unsold and had to be wintered on Kansas ranges at great expense. The drive in 1872 was only about half that of 1871. The financial Panic of 1873 forced some cattlemen into bankruptcy. In some cases, cattle shipped to market that year did not sell for enough to pay shipping expenses. Farmers were pushing cattle into ever-more-arid parts of the country.

The era of the cattle drive was at its peak for only about 20 years – from after the Civil War until the coming of the railroads to Texas made the long trek to northern markets unnecessary. But it has left us with a legacy of images that will be with us for generations: of sun-burned cowboys in their distinctive chaps and wide-brimmed hats, of clouds of dust kicked up by bawling cattle, of the wheeling and darting quarter horses keeping the critters in line, of the crusty chuckwagon cook making biscuits in a Dutch oven over an open fire. The cattle drive, more than any other entity, epitomizes the romanticism of the "Old West."

— written by Mary G. Ramos, editor emerita, for the Texas Almanac 1990-1991.



Truckee River. – Courtesy Library of Congress –

Millions of miles of interstates, highways, roads and dirt tracks crisscross the mountains, valleys, deserts and plains of the Western United States. Amtrak still delivers passengers across the West, and dozens of heritage railroads have preserved and restored historic lines for modern rail enthusiasts. On the major waterways and lakes, travelers can cruise on modern paddle-wheelers, schooners, ships, ferries and houseboats.

High adventure awaits across the West at guest ranches, where wranglers will lead you on horseback into the mountains or on a real cattle drive; on rivers, where rafting companies will take you deep into red walled river canyons or canoe- and kayak- outfitters will take you deep into the woods to experience life like a French voyageur.
After after sleeping under the stars, head into town and you will discover that historic hotels, inns and restaurants are the staple of Western towns. Equally, the traveler who loves big Western cities will discover hotels with history, and the fine meals  and accommodations that make them even more enjoyable than they were when they hosted the rich and famous 150 years ago. So whether you are bedding down in a bedroll after a chuck-wagon dinner and a chorus around the campfire, or enjoying the lights of a city from a restaurant atop a turn-of-the-last-century heritage hotel, Western proprietors await your visit—ready to help you plan your adventure and make memories of a lifetime.

—Stuart Rosebrook

The original territorial capital of Arizona, Prescott has history and heritage honored and celebrated throughout the year at numerous local museums, hotels and restaurants. Don’t miss Frontier Days and the World’s Oldest Rodeo every Fourth of July.
Readers’ Choice:
Bandera, TX

Best Place to Live Like an Old West Cowboy (Summer)
Deadwood, SD
Founded in 1876 at the northern edge of South Dakota’s Black Hills, Deadwood welcomes visitors all year long, but summertime in the historic town is a prime time to enjoy the heritage of one of the West’s most famous destinations. The annual Days of 76 Parade and Rodeo in late July is one of the best events of the year.
Readers’ Choice:
Sheridan, WY

Best Old West Gunfighter Town
Dodge City, KS
Take a trolley ride tour of Dodge City to discover the thrill of the Old West in the “Queen of the Cowtowns” at the Boot Hill Museum, Gunfighters Wax Museum, Trail of Fame, Home of Stone and Kansas Heritage Center. Every summer gunfighter re-enactors hold thrilling events along “Front Street” at the Boot Hill Museum.
Readers’ Choice:
Tombstone, AZ

Best Preserved Pioneer Town Re-Created
High Desert Museum, Bend, OR
Where can you find Old West living history events and a zoo all in the same fun place? At the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon, that’s where, all on 135 acres, with indoor and outdoor exhibits.
Readers’ Choice:
Dodge City, KS

Best Old West Art Town
Cody, WY
From galleries to museums, Cody, Wyoming, is a Western art lovers dream come true. Start at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Whitney Western Art Museum, then head downtown to tour and shop at the art galleries, saddle shops and Western artisan stores. Don’t miss the month-long Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale every August and September, and the Rendezvous Royale Western art celebration the fourth week of every September.
Readers’ Choice:
Scottsdale, AZ

Best Town for Historic Entertainment
Deadwood, SD
Put on your boots and hat and walk on down Deadwood’s Main Street and enjoy famous restaurants, museums, saloons, shops and haunted hotel tours at the Historic Bullock Hotel and the Historic Fairmont Hotel and Oyster Bay Bar. In the summer, don’t miss the Trial of Jack McCall drama six nights a week, the Deadwood Alive’s Main Street Shows and Shootouts.
Readers’ Choice:
Tombstone, AZ

Best Architecturally Preserved Western Town
Virginia City, MT
In 1863, gold was discovered along Alder Creek. The rush into the hills led to numerous claims and the founding of Virginia City, Montana. Once the territorial capital of Montana, the historic, living-history village invites visitors to stay and immerse themselves in the heritage community with its Old West entertainment, lodging, restaurants and activities, including stagecoach and train rides.
Readers’ Choice:
Deadwood, SD

Best Historic Town Tour
Laramie, WY
Best known today as the home of the University of Wyoming, Laramie’s heritage as an Old West city begins in the 1860s along the overland route of the Union Pacific rail line. Like many railroad camps, Laramie quickly gained a wild reputation for lawlessness. Today’s visitors can tour 15 historic sites from Laramie’s early years on the Legends of Laramie Tour, sponsored by the Laramie Area Visitor Center. The tour includes the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site, Historic Ivinson Mansion, the historic Laramie Union Pacific Train Station and the ghost town of Sherman at the Ames Monument.
Readers’ Choice:
Dodge City, KS

Best Promotion of a Historic Place
Sheridan, WY
The town of Sheridan, Wyoming, was founded in 1884 and named after General Philip Sheridan. The historic city is a gateway to the Big Horn Mountains and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. When in Sheridan take a Koltiska Horse & Carriage Company tour of historic Main Street and spend a relaxing weekend in the recently restored and reopened Historic Sheridan Inn, with its superb Open Range Restaurant.
Readers’ Choice:
Dodge City, KS

Best Old West Town to Live In
Prescott, AZ
Prescott’s Courthouse Square and historic downtown welcomes visitors to enjoy the mile-high city with its heritage hotels, Whiskey Row shops and saloons, and numerous art galleries, restaurants, museums and antique shops. The city, adjacent to Prescott National Forest, is also home to Yavapai College, Embry-Riddle University and an extension of Northern Arizona University.
Readers’ Choice:
Tombstone, AZ

Best Historic Cemetery of the West
Concordia Cemetery, TX
El Paso’s historic Concordia Cemetery is home to 60,000 beloved—and not so beloved—souls, including the notorious gunslinger John Wesley Hardin. Walk the grounds and remember the heroes, heroines and common folk who rest eternally in Concordia—Buffalo Soldiers, Texas Rangers, Civil War veterans, early Mormon pioneers and numerous local legends.
Readers’ Choice:
Boot Hill Cemetery, Dodge City, KS

Best Preserved Historic Fort of the West
Fort Davis National Historic Site, TX
Deep in the heart of Trans-Pecos Texas, Fort Davis National Historic Site is one of the finest examples of Texas frontier forts built in the 1850s to protect travelers between San Antonio and El Paso. In active service to 1891, Fort Davis has been restored and is managed by the National Park Service as a frontier military living history center.
Readers’ Choice:
Fort Laramie National Historic Site
Fort Laramie, WY

Best Historic Railroad of the West
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
Chama, NM/Antonito, CO
Built originally as part of the San Juan Extension of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1880, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is one of the most celebrated historic rail lines in the West, and the only one between two states. The Cumbres & Toltec operates from late May to late October, and includes numerous special trains and excursions on the 64-mile line between Chama, New Mexico, and Antonito, Colorado. The National Historic Landmark steam-driven train is a thrill ride of spectacular views across the San Juan Mountains and Conejos Valley.
Readers’ Choice:
Georgetown Loop Railroad Georgetown, CO and
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Durango, CO

Best Preservation of a Historic Western Building
Strater Hotel, Durango, CO
The Strater Hotel in the historic district of Durango, Colorado, is the perfect place to stay when vacationing in the Animas River Valley city made internationally famous by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Opened in 1887, the Strater is a landmark hotel, luxuriously maintained and preserved with antiques throughout the historic inn and its well-appointed rooms. Don’t miss an evening in the Diamond Belle Saloon and dinner in the Mahogany Grill.
Readers’ Choice:
Sheridan Inn, Sheridan, WY

Best Preserved Historic Trail
Chisholm Trail in Texas
Oklahoma and Kansas
The Chisholm Trail was established in 1867 with the first cattle drive to Abilene, Kansas. During the next 18 years, 5 million head of cattle were driven along it from Texas to Kansas. The trail had a great economic impact on the country, and served as backdrop to many Old West legends. In 2017, communities along the route from Southern Texas to Abilene, Kansas, will celebrate the sesquicentennial of the cattle trail that changed the West. Abilene, Kansas, is planning a major event Labor Day Weekend in September 2017.
Readers’ Choice:
Santa Fe Trail

Best Preservation Effort of the West
Dodge City, KS
Known as the “Queen of the Cowtowns,” Dodge City is dedicated to celebrating and preserving its 19th-century history. Start at Dodge City’s Visitor Center and take the historic walking tour of the city. While in Dodge City, don’t miss visiting the Santa Fe Trail Rut Site National Park, the Mueller-Schmidt House and Fort Dodge (Kansas Soldiers Home).
Readers’ Choice:
National Ranching Heritage Center, Lubbock, TX

Best “Who Slept Here” Hotel
Hotel Colorado, Glenwood Springs, CO
Since 1893, the luxurious Hotel Colorado, a “Grande Dame of the Rockies,” has hosted presidents, celebrities and the rich and famous. Today, the Glenwood Springs landmark welcomes guests from around the world to enjoy its famous hospitality, fine dining and relaxing Rocky Mountain atmosphere. A favorite of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, the hotel was also frequented by numerous famous and infamous people, including “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown. Visitors wanting a special treat should request a stay in the Molly Brown Suite.
Readers’ Choice:
The Occidental, Buffalo, WY

Best Heritage Hotel
The Irma Hotel, WY
Built by Buffalo Bill Cody in 1902 and named after his daughter, the Irma Hotel is still “a gem” just outside the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Relax in modern accommodations or choose to stay in historic rooms enjoyed by Frederic Remington, Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane or Bill Cody, himself. Don’t miss the restaurant and historic saloon with the cherrywood bar, a gift to Cody from Britain’s Queen Victoria.
Readers’ Choice:
The Strater Hotel, Durango, CO

Best Heritage Bed & Breakfast
Boot Hill Bed & Breakfast, Dodge City, KS
Built in 1927, the Boot Hill Bed & Breakfast is located in the Burr House, a Dutch Colonial Revival brick home on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Located at the top of Boot Hill, it is a wonderful and relaxing place to call home for a few days within easy walking and driving distance of Dodge City’s historic sites and museums.
Readers’ Choice:
Gandy Dancer Inn, Chama, NM

Best Historic Saloon of the West
Big Nose Kates, Tombstone, AZ
Big Nose Kate’s Saloon stands in the same location as the Grand Hotel built in 1880. The night before the “Gunfight Behind the OK Corral,” on October 26, 1881, Ike Clanton and the two McLaury brothers were guests in the Grand. While the original hotel burned in the great fire of May 25, 1882, the saloon has restored the building, moving  from the basement to the main floor the only bar to survive the fire. So don’t miss a chance to enjoy a cold beverage and meal on the same long bar that hosted the infamous lawmen and outlaws that made Tombstone “the town too tough to die.”
Readers’ Choice:
Saloon #10, Deadwood, SD

Best Historic Restaurant
Buckhorn Exchange, Denver, CO
Opened in 1893, the Buckhorn Exchange holds Colorado’s first liquor license. Back then, Denver railroad workers scrambled every Friday to exchange their paychecks for gold and a token for a free lunch and a beer, which filled the restaurant’s register. Today, the National Historic Landmark welcomes guests to dine at lunch or dinner and enjoy the menu known for its gourmet wild game, buffalo prime rib and classic desserts.
Readers’ Choice:
The Palace Saloon, Prescott, AZ

Best Chuckwagon Cook-off
Cheyenne Frontier Days, Cheyenne, WY
An annual highlight of the world-famous annual Cheyenne Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the Chuckwagon Cook-Off celebrates the heritage of chuckwagon cooking on the open range and cattle drives that brought cattle from Texas to Wyoming. The chuckwagon cooks hold demonstrations and tastings for four days leading up to the championship event as part of Cheyenne Frontier Days, two weeks of events held every July.
Readers’ Choice:
Big Horn Heritage Days, Sheridan, WY

Best Chuckwagon Show & Supper
Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium, Ruidoso, NM
Founded by legendary New Mexico cowboy singer Ray Reed in 1990, the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium has grown from its humble roots in Glencoe, New Mexico, to one of the biggest annual festivals celebrating the cowboy way of life. Held at the Ruidoso Downs Race Track & Casino every October, the three days offer visitors world-class cowboy music, a championship chuckwagon cook-off, numerous events for the whole family and a Western Expo with over 110 vendors.
Readers’ Choice:
National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration, Lubbock, TX

Best Heritage Guest Ranch
White Stallion Ranch, Tucson, AZ
Tucson’s famous White Stallion Guest Ranch welcomes guests with Old West hospitality, hearty Western food, individual casitas and an old-style lodge. Western trail riding still is the best way to enjoy the saguaro-studded desert that surrounds the ranch headquarters, where several Western movies were filmed.
Readers’ Choice:
Tanque Verde Ranch, Wickenburg, AZ

Best Cowboy Poetry Gathering
National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration, Lubbock, TX
The National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration is held every September in Lubbock, Texas, and is one of the biggest annual events in the West Texas city. The Cowboy Poetry Gathering, with dozens of performers, is one of the centerpieces of the three-day festival, which includes a chuckwagon cook-off, numerous Western, equestrian, cowboy and Native heritage demonstrations, family events, and the ever-popular famous Parade of the Horse.
Readers’ Choice:
National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, NV

Best Cowboy Music Gathering
Heber Valley Western Music & Cowboy Gathering, Heber City, UT
In 2017, the Heber Valley Western Music & Cowboy Gathering will be celebrating its 23rd year at the annual festival in Heber Valley, Utah, in late October. From regional favorite to international stars of Western music and cowboy poetry, the Heber Valley festival has entertainment for all ages, including the Mountain Man Traders Camp, Buckaroo Fair and mounted Shooters events.
Readers’ Choice:
Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering & Western Swing Festival
Fort Worth, TX

Best Old West Mounted Re-enactment
Defeat of Jesse James Days
Northfield, MN
Held the first weekend after Labor Day every September in Northfield, Minnesota, the Defeat of Jesse James Days offer a thrill-a-minute mounted re-enactment of the failed James-Younger Gang robbery of Northfield’s First National Bank on September 7, 1876. The three-day event includes programming for all ages, but the highlight every day is the Raid Re-enactment—two on Friday, four on Saturday and two on Sunday—with enough action in every 30-minute show to ensure you leave believing you were there on that fateful day in 1876.
Readers’ Choice:
Buffalo Soldier Society of New Mexico,
Albuquerque, NM

Best Old West Re-enactment Group
Six Guns & Shady Ladies, El Paso, TX
The El Paso-based troupe Six Guns & Shady Ladies has entertained audiences all across the country since Bernie and Melissa Sargent founded it in 1998. With nearly 50 skits, the Wild West re-enactment group brings humor and history to every show, with thrilling gunfights, including the famous “Four Dead in Five Seconds.”
Readers’ Choice:
Prescott Regulators & Their Shady Ladies, Prescott, AZ

Best Wild West Show
Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, Cody, WY
The Rocky Mountain Dance Theatre’s Buffalo Bill Wild West Show premiered in 2016 in the theatre and has already scheduled its second exciting year for June 21-July 29, 2017, Wednesday to Saturday evenings with a matinee every Saturday. Held in the Historic Cody Theatre in downtown Cody, the musical celebrates Buffalo Bill Cody’s dream of becoming the world’s most famous entertainer, and includes cast members portraying many of the showman’s famous friends, including Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull and Wild Bill Hickok.
Readers’ Choice:
Whiskey Row Shootout, Prescott, AZ

Best Historic Western Rodeo
Pendleton Round-Up, Pendleton, OR
Since 1910, the Pendleton Round-Up has been held in the same location with no in-arena advertising. The Oregon Heritage Culture Event continues as the “epic drama of the West” with its wooden chutes and unique, timed run-down alley.
Readers’ Choice:
The World’s Oldest Rodeo, Prescott, AZ

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