Small Towns, Cowboy Charm
7 Ruidoso, New Mexico
Cattle Barons and Outlaws
Many may know Ruidoso for its snow skiing and resort areas, but the town and the surrounding area maintain a rich cattle-baron heritage, and ranching remains a vital industry.
Industry Insider: Craig Cameron, well-known horseman and clinician who owns a ranch in nearby Lincoln.
“This area of the country is as cowboy as it gets,” Cameron says. “It was the home of Billy the Kid, and there are a lot of really good cowboys that live here. A person feels at home in his boots and his hat. It’s still a little untamed. It has a little bit of outlaw flavor to it.”
Then and Now: The area was first settled in the mid-1800s by ranchers and farmers, and today 1.9 million acres in Lincoln County are devoted to farming and ranching. Ruidoso’s history began with the establishment of Fort Stanton, built in 1859 to protect settlers from Apache warriors. The famous Lincoln County War, a conflict in 1878 between ranchers and owners of the country’s largest general store, gave notoriety to a local ranch hand, better known as the outlaw Billy the Kid.
See: Flying J Ranch Chuckwagon Dinner and Show; Hubbard Museum of the American West; Old Lincoln County Courthouse Museum.
Attend: “Last Escape of Billy the Kid” pageant (August); All American Futurity for Quarter Horses (September); Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium (October).
For more information: ruidosonow.com.
8. Miles City, Montana
Broncs and Big Country
For more than a century, horses and cattle have shaped this eastern Montana cowboy mecca. Cattle sales, rodeos, Miles City Saddlery and the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale are timeless traditions that enable the community to maintain its rich, colorful cowboy heritage.
Industry Insider: Native Montanan and horseman Curt Pate, who spent a summer partnering on a ranch and grazing operation in the area.
“Horses and cattle are what made Miles City a unique cowboy town,” Pate says. “It was a remount station and cow town. The big country required horses that could cover a lot of ground. I was there recently, and it’s still big ranch country and still has a cowboy feel. I think of it as the Texas of Montana.”
Then and Now: Named after General Nelson A. Miles, commander of Fort Keogh, Miles City evolved from a military post after the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. The extension of the railroad through Miles City in the 1880s built the cattle industry, as Texas cowboys drove thousands of cattle to eastern Montana’s open ranges, where the cattle were fattened and then loaded onto trains and shipped to slaughterhouses in Chicago. When the brutal winter of 1886–1887 devastated the local cattle industry, ranchers turned to raising horses. Fort Keogh became a remount station in 1907.
See: Range Riders Museum; Miles City Saddlery; Fort Keogh; 600 Cafe and its collection of photos by frontier photographer L.A. Huffman; Olive Hotel; historic watering holes such as the Montana Bar.
Attend: Miles City Bucking Horse Sale (May); Miles City Bluegrass Festival (September).
For more information: milescitychamber.com.
9. Paso Robles, California
“Pass of the Oaks”
The spirit of the California vaquero is still alive and well in this coastal town, which also is home to more than 200 wineries. Located on historic Highway 101, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Paso Robles is home to 30,000 residents.
Industry Insider: Les Vogt, reining and cow horse world champion, and two-time National Reined Cow Horse Association Futurity winner.
“Paso Robles has a lot to offer,” says Vogt. “It’s been a magnet for horse people. The town itself is designed in somewhat of a Spanish flavor. In the early days, it was part of the mission system. There are always colorful events going on. It’s a good place to take a family. It’s a very Western culture. Whatever they do in Paso Robles, believe me, it’s going to be good.”
Then and Now: For more than 200 years, the Paso Robles area has been known for its thermal springs. The town was established in 1886, and for many years was known for its almond orchards. But cattle, horses and ranching all have played a large part in the development and success of Paso Robles. Today, ranching and vineyards that supply the area’s successful wine industry are hallmarks of the town.
See: Paso Robles Pioneer Museum; California’s Historic Mission Trail, which runs along Highway 101 and includes 21 missions.
Attend: Cattlemen’s Western Art Show (late March – early April); California Mid-State Fair (July); National Reined Cow Horse Association Derby (June); Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association Futurity (October).
For more information: pasorobleschamber.com.
10 Prescott, Arizona
Art and Cowboy Colony
With its historic brick buildings and hotels, bronze monuments and art galleries, and close proximity to desert ranchland, Prescott offers diversity to Western art and heritage enthusiasts.
Industry Insider: The late Artist Bill Owen, who has lived, painted and ranched in the area all of his life was quoted,
“Prescott has always been a cowboy town, A cow boss used to be able to come to town and hire a whole crew of cowboys. Their bedrolls used to line the hotel hallways.”
Then and Now: Once the Arizona Territory capitol, Prescott was settled by prospectors staking claims. In 1900, the town burned to the ground and the buildings were rebuilt in brick. The surrounding area’s scenic beauty and many galleries have made it a popular artists’ colony.
See: Sharlot Hall Museum; The Phippen Museum; Savoini’s Western Wear; the historic Hassayampa Inn, Hotel St. Michael and the Palace Hotel.
Attend: World’s Oldest Rodeo (July 4 weekend); Phippen Museum Western Art Show & Sale (May); Arizona Cowboy Poets Gathering (September).
For more information: prescott.org.
Bright Lights, Cowboy Nights
For those who prefer city lights, nightlife and ample cultural experiences, here are our picks for seven big cities that still embrace their cowboy roots.
In the 1880s, Abilene was promoted as the “Future Great City of West Texas.” The city hasn’t forgotten its ranching and agricultural roots. The Expo Center of Taylor County hosts several major horse events annually, including the Abilene Spectacular Cutting, the Western Heritage Classic and the West Texas Fair & Rodeo. abilenevisitors.com
The Big Texan Steakhouse is one of Amarillo’s landmarks, but the city is home to the American Quarter Horse Association (and its Hall of Fame and Museum), along with the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in nearby Canyon. The Working Ranch Cowboys Association has its world championship rodeo here, drawing cowboys from around the country. visitamarillotx.com
Fort Worth, Texas
The city lives up to its “Cowtown” image with the Stockyards National Historic District and landmarks like M.L. Leddy’s. The National Cutting Horse Association’s three major annual events and the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo are highlights at the historic Will Rogers Equestrian Center. And don’t forget the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Amon Carter Museum with its Western art collection. fortworth.com
Kansas City, Kansas
Two states claim Kansas City—Missouri and Kansas—but there is a wealth of Western history between them. The Kansas side includes the historic stockyards, which comprised a main hub for the livestock industry from the 1870s until its closing in 1991. The Livestock Exchange Building remains and is a business and retail center. The Missouri version boasts the American Royal, an events center that hosts annual Quarter Horse shows, rodeos and cuttings. visitkc.com
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
History, horses and cowboys converge in Oklahoma City, home of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. The historic stockyards have been renewed in Stockyards City. Thousands of horses are in the spotlight annually at the American Quarter Horse Association’s World Championship Show, the National Reining Horse Association’s Futurity and Derby, and the U.S. Team Roping Championships. visitokc.com
Rapid City, South Dakota
Nestled between the Black Hills and the Badlands, Rapid City is a mix of past and present, of cowboy and Indian legends. From modern art museums to Indian trading posts, the city is abundant in culture and only a stone’s throw from some of our country’s most historic monuments. visitrapidcity.com
Vaquero heritage meets modern day California life in Salinas, where the cowboys come for the California (Ro-day-o) Rodeo, which has been held for more than 100 years, and culture at the Cowboys & Cabernet poetry and wine tasting. seemonterey.com/salinas-california