Small Towns, Cowboy Charm

The West’s best cowboy destinations often are not along the Interstate or near a major airport. Here are 10 small towns that continue to honor their horse, cattle and cowboy heritage.

STCC illustration

Illustrations by KEVIN CORTDZ

As the west was being settled in the mid-1800s, frontier towns sprouted to support the mining, military and cattle industries. These were the places where battles were won and lost, history was made and legends emerged.

Some of these once-booming, rough-and-tumble outposts have become ghost towns; others successfully transitioned into contemporary culture while still embracing their cowboy connection through annual festivals, rodeos, horse events and historic preservation. Here, Western Horseman’s staff identifies its 10 favorite small towns with the most authentic cowboy ambiance.

1. Sheridan, Wyoming

BuckingBull King of Cowboy Towns

History and cowboy collide in this northern Wyoming town, where rough riders and legendary craftsmen share the main street with modern-day cuisine and historic saloons.

Industry Insider: Tom Balding, owner of Tom Balding Bits & Spurs, and a 30-year Sheridan resident.

“One thing I like, it is not an obvious tourist town,” Balding says. “Sheridan is one of the more genuine Western towns in America.”

Then and Now: Established in 1884 and named for a Civil War officer, General Sheridan, the town was once the home of “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Annie Oakley and the performers in Cody’s Wild West Show. Here, Don King pioneered the Sheridan style of carving saddles, and his museum and store still bring in Main Street visitors. It also is home to the oldest polo club west of the Mississippi River, so Sheridan’s nearly 30,000 residents see some of the best polo ponies and rodeo horses year round.

See: Bozeman Trail Museum; Trail End Historic Site; the Bradford Brinton Memorial and Museum; the T-Rex Natural History Museum; Don King Saddle Shop; Sheridan Inn.

Attend: 20th Annual Rocky Mountain Leather Trade Show (May); Eatons’ Annual Horse Drive (early June); Sheridan WYO Rodeo (July); Don King Days (September).

For more information: sheridanwyoming.org.

2. Elko, Nevada

Cheney BarCowboy poet Walt "Bimbo" Cheney bellies up to the bar at the Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nevada, home of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Photo by Ross HecoxThe Mother Lode of Cowboy Culture

The fourth-largest county in the United States, Elko County is home to some of the West’s largest working ranches, as well as the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Industry Insider: Cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, Elko County resident and lifelong advocate of the buckaroo.

“Elko is a hub for the bigger buckaroo outfits around northeastern Nevada,” says Mitchell. “Though it’s mostly a mining community now, the residents haven’t disenfranchised the buckaroo and are open to keeping the ranching and buckaroo spirit alive in Elko.”

Then and Now: Pioneers first passed through Elko in 1841, following the Humboldt River and the California Trail. Eastward expansion of the Central Pacific railroad created the town in 1868. Basque sheep herders from the Pyrenees Mountains in
Spain and France, and cattle ranchers used the arid high-desert country to graze livestock. Legendary bit and spur maker G.S. Garcia arrived in Elko in 1896, opening G.S. Garcia Harness and Saddle Shop. One of Garcia’s apprentices, Joe Capriola, opened J.M. Capriola Co. in 1924, and it continues to be a destination for horsemen.

See: The Northeastern Nevada Museum, home to one of the largest private collections of Will James memorabilia; Western Folklife Center; J.M. Capriola Co.; Anacabe’s Elko General Merchandise; the Star Hotel, known for its Basque dinners.

Attend: Great Basin Cowboy Gear Show & Sale (January); National Cowboy Poetry Gathering (late January - early February); Bronc Bash (New years Eve); Spring Creek Ranch Rodeo, (April); National Basque Festival, (July); Silver State Stampede (July); Elko Leather Show (July); Elko County Fair (August); Van Norman Horse Sale (September); Annual Will James Society Gather (October).

For more information: elkonevada.com.

Tags: ElkoSheridan WyomingPendleton Round-UpElko NevadaTrappings of TexasCowboy TownsMiles CityCody Stampede