Monday, October 22, 2012

Cowboy ‪Déjà Vu‬ -- Cody High Style

Cody, Wyoming is one of my favorite places to visit.  Over the past 25 years I've spent a bunch of time there participating in the 'Cody Old West Show', the 'Western Design Conference' (WDC), hanging out at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center or getting ready for a trail ride in the backcountry.

I don't know if it was pure happenstance or maybe a little good old fashioned karma, but when we got to Cody -- on our trip this summer -- we discovered the town was in the middle of 'Rendezvous Royale' a week in September devoted to a nationally recognized contemporary western art show and auction, an exhibition Western design, and a downtown festival.

The evening we arrived -- 'Boot Scoot'n Boogie' -- the downtown street festival showcasing the thriving local art community and Cody businesses was in full swing.  We had dinner at the Proud Cut then wandered around enjoying Cody's unique boutiques and cowboy culture.

As planned the next morning we went to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center to see its Plains Indian Museum, Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Cody Firearms Museum and of course the Buffalo Bill Museum.  To our surprise and delight an exhibition called 'Cody High Style' -- a celebration of Western Decorative arts with current works from today's best contemporary artists was on display.

I don't know anything about the politics behind the change, but it was clear to me 'Cody High Style' is what was once called the 'Western Design Conference.'  One artist explained to me that the design conference was moved to Jackson Hole, so the Buffalo Bill Historical Center offered to sponsor 'Cody High Style' to keep a Western Decorative arts show in Cody.  To me that's just good cowboy logic since the whole modern movement of Western Decorative arts started out as a tribute to the late Thomas Molesworth who operated the Shoshone Furniture Company in Cody from 1931 to 1961.

Yours truly at the first WDC (1993)

I had a wonderful visit with old friends like Jimmy Covert and Dan MacPhail -- pals I made back when the 'Western Design Conference' first started in 1993.  It's hard to believe it has been almost 20 years.  I learned that the artists who had attended the first Western Design Conference were wearing the original 1993 WDC badge -- sort of a badge of honor I guess.  I know I still treasure mine.

Whatever you call it -- lodge furniture, cowboy chic, rancho deluxe, or cowboy high style -- I'm glad there are still artists creating decorative arts that honor our Western heritage.  

I retired from building my 'Lure of the Dim Trails' line of cowboy chic furniture back in 2002 (because of back problems) but on good days I think about creating just one more piece :)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Reel Cowgirls of the Santa Susanas -- Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck (1907 – 1990) was an Academy Award nominated actress and television star.  During her 60-year career she was known as a consummate and versatile professional with a strong, realistic screen presence, and a favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang, and Frank Capra. 

After a short but notable career as a stage actress in the late 1920s, she made 85 films in 38 years in Hollywood, before turning to television in the 1960s.

Barbara at Marwyck Farms co-owned with Zeppo Marx (1937)

In the late 1930s Stanwyck co-owned a 140 acre thoroughbred horse breeding farm with her agent Zeppo Marx.  The farm known as Marwyck farms later became Northridge Farms, and was located north of Lassen Street along Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, California.  In the 1940s Northridge called itself the "Horse Capital of the West."  See Kevin Rodericks excellent article about movie stars in the San Fernando Valley at

Barbara Stanwyck's Santa Susana locations filmography:

Annie Oakley (1935) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Preston Foster and Melvyn Douglas (Iverson Ranch) RKO

California (1946) starring Ray Milland, Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Fitzgerald (Burro Flats)(Iverson Ranch) Paramount  

Cattle Queen of Montana (1954) starring Ronald Reagan, Barbara Stanwyck and Gene Evans (Iverson Ranch) RKO

Moonlighter, The (1953) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Ward Bond (Iverson Ranch) Warner Bros.

"Zane Grey Theater" (1956) TV Series

"Wagon Train" (TV series) 1961 - 1964

"The Big Valley" (TV series)  1965 - 1969

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Best Cowboy Knife Ever -- Buck Horseman's Knife

About 20 years ago I bought a "Buck Horseman's Knife" from a packer and outfitters store in Cody, Wyoming.  I've carried that knife clipped to my boot, or in my hip pocket on every horseback ride since then.  

Over the years I've picked a ton of rocks out of horse hoofs with the sturdy aluminum hoof pick, and I've cut a couple of lead ropes on panicked horses.  See my story -- "Cowboy Wisdom -- Why carry a sharp knife"

Then roughly ten years back I started getting plumb anxious and worried I'd lose the best knife I ever owned.  I started looking for another one to put away as a backup, and I soon discovered -- for some undetermined reason -- Buck had quit making them.  I got in touch with the Buck factory and a representative promised to keep my name on file and let me know if they ever made some more.

Look close and you'll see my knife clipped to my boot

Another five years went by -- I was traveling a lot to do Cowboy Mounted Shooting -- I started getting' down-right paranoid about losing that knife.  I started watching ebay on a daily basis, and after about two years of searching I found one at auction that was a special presentation for the employees at Purina Mills.  It came a nylon sheath -- mine never had one -- and included an original Buck plastic bag.

It's amazing the lengths we'll go to for something unusual that works so well.  It cost me a heap of dough, but I now have an backup of the Best Cowboy Knife Ever -- Buck Horseman's Knife

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas -- Errol Flynn

Above: A scene from They Died With Their Boots On (1941) with Anthony Quinn, as Crazy Horse and Errol Flynn as George Armstrong Custer.

Errol Flynn (1909–1959) was an Australian-born actor.  He was best known for  romantic swashbuckler roles in Hollywood films. Flynn became a naturalised American citizen in 1942, and attempted to join every branch of the armed services during World War II, but his enlarged heart (with a murmur) and the fact that he had already suffered at least one heart attack kept him out of military service. His playboy lifestyle, alcoholism, and drug abuse caused his premature death at age 50.

Only three of Flynn's 63 films were lensed in the Chatsworth area, and Olivia de Havilland co-starred in all of them:

Charge of the Light Brigade, The (1936) starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Patric Knowles (Iverson Ranch) Warner Bros.

Adventures of Robin Hood, The (1938) starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Basil Rathbone (Corriganville) Warner Bros.

They Died with Their Boots On (1941) starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Arthur Kennedy (Iverson Ranch) Warner Bros.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hitched Horsehair -- Deer Lodge Prison Montana

above right - a hitched bridle I owned for many years

As I've told you in earlier posts I bought, sold and traded Old West antiques and collectibles for the past thirty years, but it wasn't until about the mid 1980s that I learned about prison made hitched horsehair trappings.

Hitching horsehair involves using hair from a horse's tail and tying thousands of tiny half hitch knots to form a pattern.  The art was originally brought to the Americas by spanish explorers and has since been used by cowboys, Indians, sheep herders, mexicans and especially prisoners.  Montana's State Prison at Deer Lodge is perhaps the best known source for hitched horsehair cowboy trappings.   Other prisons known for hitched horsehair include Yuma, Arizona; Walla Walla, Washington, and Rawlins, Wyoming.

Over the past the past twenty-five years Joyce and I have owned many hitched horsehair bridles, hatbands, and belts.

In the photo above, Joyce's horse Zinger (left) has a mexican hitched horsehair bridle, and my hatband (right) is from Deer Lodge prison in Montana.

On our return trip -- from a recent vacation in Glacier National Park -- we had a chance to visit the Montana State Prison Hobby Store in Deer Lodge, Montana.  The store is a mecca of hitched horsehair and offers hundreds of hatbands, dozens of belts, and a handful of complete bridles.

Since I reach my allotted "three score and ten" this month Joyce splurged and bought the belt I've always longed for my birthday. How do you like the horse heads?

I've been told it takes between six months to a year to hitch a full bridle and reins, so I'm guessing this belt took a month to craft.  This beautiful belt was created by Jim White.  Hitching is a prison hobby that earns money to send home, improves self esteem, and helps keep the peace in an otherwise dreary place.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sunlight Basin -- Chief Joseph Scenic Highway

One of my favorite scenic drives in the West is the 76 miles between Cody, Wyoming and Cooke City, Montana.  The trip includes 46 miles on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (Wyoming State Highway 296) through the Sunlight Basin, and approximately 14 miles on the Beartooth Highway (US Highway 212) bringing to Cooke City the gateway and northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park leading into the Lamar Valley.

The late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt called the Beartooth Highway "the most beautiful drive in America."  If you can find the time the drive to Red Lodge, Montana on the remaining portion of the Beartooth Highway the scenery is nothing short of spectacular.

The Sunlight Basin drive offers extraordinary landscape vistas and plenty of opportunity for wildlife viewing (elk, deer, moose, mountain goats, and bear are sometimes spotted).  Wyoming's Hwy 296 takes you over an 8,000 foot summit at Dead Indian Pass and traverses seven switchbacks down to the rim of the Clark's Fork gorge.

Be sure to read the historical markers to learn about how -- in 1877 -- Chief Joseph led his Nez Perce tribe over 1,000 miles of mountainous terrain to escape U.S. cavalry and the governments attempt to force them onto a reservation. The Chief Joseph Scenic Highway is part of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

Whenever I get a chance to visit Cody, Wyoming, and then double back into Yellowstone I try to time my drive so I'm traveling through the Sunlight Basin just after sunrise.  On a recent trip we spotted a young grizzly bear that darted across the highway a hundred feet in front of us just before entering Cooke City.

Once inside Yellowstone Park the Lamar Valley never fails to please wildlife seekers.  On my last trip we caught a glimpse of the last of the druid wolf pack just before they disappeared into the trees on the south side of the valley.

Tip:  Watch for folks with spotting scopes.  Lots of these folks are local residents that know when and where to spot a wolf pack or grizzly.

If you have time to park and glass the valley with a good pair of binoculars (or spotting scope) you're likely to be treated to any number of nature's dramas.  Look carefully for wolves, bear, antelope, buffalo, and golden eagles.

The Lamar Valley is home to a large herd of buffalo that stretches for 40 miles on both sides of the road.  Just watch your speed because hitting a 2000 pound buffalo bull could sure ruin your day :)

Happy trails.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Backcountry Travel -- Packin' Iron

1995 - 5 out of 9 packing' iron in Wyoming bear country

Carrying a gun in backcountry is a personal choice.  I choose to carry a gun for three reasons… 1) as a means to signal searchers in the event I'm in trouble; 2) as a means for self defense; and 3) as a means for survival.  Truthfully it's unlikely that I'd ever need a gun on a horseback ride or a canoe trip, but having one within reach gives me a good deal of personal comfort.


Traditionally three gun shots indicates a need for help and lets searchers know which direction to travel.  I don't suggest wasting a lot of ammo if you aren't sure you can be heard, but if you have an idea someone is looking for you or is within earshot it's worth a try.  Just don't shoot in the air -- shooting at a tree or dirt hillside is the best choice.

Self defense 

People -- Defending myself has taken on more significance as I've aged.  At 70 years old I'm not equipped to fight bad guys, but I can still fire a gun if my life is in danger.  

There was a time when I felt pretty safe in the backcountry, then a couple of events made me realize even bad folks populate the backcountry.  A few years back I was at a fur trade rendezvous reenactment when a group of teenagers wandered into our camp late at night.  The next day we found our cars -- parked a half mile way -- had been broken into.  Quite a few guns -- including my 357 magnum -- had been stolen along with wallets, tools and other personal items.

In 1995, when I made a solo run down the Missouri River in Montana, I carried a 12 gauge shotgun for signaling, self-defense, and survival.  about midway down the river -- miles from any inhabited location -- I heard the crack of a high powered rifle a couple hundred yards above the north shore.  A split second later I heard a bullet smash into some rocks on the south shore.  In total the shooter(s) fired a half dozen shots over my head.  I can't begin to tell you how inadequate my 12 gauge made me feel.  I reported the incident to the local sheriff in Lewiston when I got to the take-out two days later.  It seems a couple of teenagers were just having a little fun -- according to the sheriff -- who did nothing about it.

Animals -- I know plenty of outfitters that wouldn't consider entering bear country without a gun, so I've adopted my own policy of carrying bear spray backed up with a good firearm.  

I've seen some ruined campsites in Minnesota's boundary waters, and I've heard enough bear stories from Wyoming outfitter friends to know bear spray isn't always the best solution for a problem bear.  Grizzly bears and wolves are on the increase in many areas of the Pacific Northwest, and recent legislation allowing guns (for self defense) in National Parks ought to be a hint of increased danger from wildlife.  Before you carry a firearm -- learn the laws governing guns in the area you plan to travel in -- and obey them.


Lots of things can happen to cause an unexpected survival situation -- injuries, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, are just a few.  Common sense and laws in many states allow the taking of game for survival.  There are no shortage of internet discussions as to which firearms are best for survival, so I'll let you find your own solution.

For me -- I want something that is light and easy to carry on horseback or in a canoe.  My personal choice is a two gun combination using the same ammo.  Where the law allows (not Canada for example) -- I carry a Ruger Vaquero .45 colt in a shoulder holster, and its companion Legacy Puma M-92 lever action .45 colt in a scabbard on horseback or a floating case in my canoe.  The combination gives me 15 rounds of fire power before I need to reload.

The .45 colt in 250 grain is a legitimate answer for bear problems, and the Puma will take down big game up to 100 yards away.

While I've never actually used them in .45 colt -- I also carry a box of #9 shot CCI Blazer Shotshells for small game and birds.  .22 shotshells were a great solution for snakes when I was growing up, so I figure the .45 colt will work just as well.

I hope I never have to use either of my guns for signaling, self-defense, or survival, and I go to the local firing range often enough to keep my eyes sharp and my guns tuned.  They are also close at hand at home :)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Grand Teton National Park -- Oxbow Bend

I had been looking forward to paddling the Oxbow Bend on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park for many months.  This year I talked my wife into going on a vacation in the Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier Parks.  She isn't really the outdoors type but agreed to read a book for a few hours while I went fishing in the Oxbow.

Secretly, I hoped she would get excited by the wildness of the place, but it was no go.  Driving into the Oxbow put-in I spotted an Osprey, but she never saw it.  Then as soon as I parked and was getting the canoe unloaded we were treated to a bull elk bugling a couple hundred yards to the north -- it only inspired her to get back into the motorhome and lock the door.

Had she been a little adventurous she might have seen the young bull moose that waded across a channel of the Oxbow while I was loading my gear into the canoe.

I first discovered the Oxbow Bend 25 years ago, and I've visited many times since.  It's funny the place hasn't changed much -- except maybe the fish population.  In the late 1980s about all I caught was mountain whitefish.  Today the dominant fish seem to be lake trout.  Over the years I've been treated to seeing a huge variety of wildlife including moose, elk, beaver, otter, fox, osprey, eagles, swans, pelicans, cranes, geese, and many species of ducks.  While I didn't see the actual animal I've also seen the fresh tracks of a grizzly bear, black bear and mountain lion on the muddy banks of the Snake River.

This year I got skunked as far as fishing goes.  I could see big (20-24") lake trout 10 feet under my canoe sucking up nymphs off the river bottom, but couldn't get them to even glance at a variety of lures.  

But, as usual I wasn't disappointed by the wildlife viewing.  The bald eagle in the photo above flew in and landed in the upper limbs of a pine tree while I was trolling.  We watched each other for about an hour -- during which time he preened and snoozed while I paddled back and forth over my favorite fishing hole.

I wonder if the eagle got skunked too.  Those trout were too deep for his talons even if his keen eyes had located them.  

Oh, and Joyce finally got to see her own bald eagle right on I-15 in Idaho Falls :)