Monday, April 26, 2010

Top 3 Westerns?

Which three Western movies do you think might be the most popular among real cowboys and cowboy re-enactors? Go on. Have a guess. Then read on.

I've just spent three days at the Melody Ranch Movie Studio (where HBO's Deadwood was filmed) with my husband Richard, researching my new series of kids' history mystery books, The Western Mysteries. This is the 17th year they've held the Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival and by all accounts it was bigger and better than ever. I chatted to lots of performers, re-enactors and fans and asked most of them what their favorite Western movie was.

I've already mentioned cowboy poets Yvonne Hollenbeck and Pat Richardson in my blog about Cowboy Poetry. Yvonne's favorite Western is Lonesome Dove and Pat's is High Noon. "Gary Cooper was a real cowboy," said Pat. "And they filmed a lot of that film right here on Melody Ranch."

On the last day of the festival, Sunday, Richard and I boarded the trolley at the La Quinta Inn to find a beautiful cowgirl: Miss Catherine Lane. She plays Belle Montana, heroine from dime novels of the 1880's. Her fave Western is The Good, the Bad & the Ugly. YES! That's mine, too.

On the trolley was also a passel of desperados from Tombstone. They are Law Dogs 'N Ladies, a tribute to the movie Tombstone. You'd think they all place Tombstone top but no. Susan plays Calamity Jane. Her fave Western is Quigley Down Under. Tim Fowler is Ike Clanton and his fave Western is Tombstone. Their son Kirk likes Lonesome Dove.

Other fans on the trolley voted: One for Lonesome Dove and one for High Noon.

When we got to Main Street I wandered over to a blacksmith who was personalizing horseshoes. I figured I'd better get one inscribed with the name of the hero from my new series, but blacksmith Wishbone Smith said "P.K. Pinkerton" was too long. While he was hammering out "P.K." on a pony-sized horse shoe, I asked him what his fave Western was. "Lonesome Dove," he replied without hesitation, and proceded to quote Robert Duvall's character Gus. His son's fave Western was Tombstone. I was beginning to detect a pattern here.

David Rainwater the fiddler couldn't choose between Tombstone or High Noon. Lasso expert Dave Thornbury's top flick is Tom Horn and black-clad, bullwhip wielding Doc Durden from Virginia City's is... you guessed it: Tombstone.

There was some great music at the festival: a Civil War Brass Band, Indian flutes, some great rock/blues and of course tons of Western music. Richard and I loved it all. I met Rich Hillworth waiting to hear Celtic Cowboys outside the California Stage on Main Street. He lives near Lancaster and used to drive mule trains across the desert. His fave Western is Lonesome Dove. David Matuszak was selling the "Bible of Western films", A Cowboy's Trail Guide to Westerns, but he loses points by saying Richard's fave Western, Little Big Man it wasn't a Western! David's fave Western is Red River. A fabulously dressed couple named Todd and Holly loved The Big Country and Tombstone, respectively.

Everybody was telling us to get the peach cobbler and bottomless coffee made by the Chuckwagon guys so we got a bowl to share and bought the tin mugs you can refill all day. The cobbler was yummy but the coffee had grounds at the bottom. Now I know why those cowboys in the Westerns always toss the last bit into the sagebrush. We sat at a table with Carol and Dave, who told us about Cowboy Church! It was held that morning at 8.00 and they had some good ol' gospel cowboy worship. Too bad we missed it. They also meet the first Friday of every month at their pastor's ranch in Agua Dulce near the amazing Vasquez Rocks. Carol's fave Western is Tombstone and his is (the newer) 3.10 to Yuma.

By now I was pretty sure of the winner. On our way down Main Street the last time I did a double take. Was that Robert Duvall? Nope. It was Gus Curry. His fave Western? Lonesome Dove of course. He posed for me with the tastefully attired Mary Culver, who loves High Noon. Despite her vote, I think Lonesome Dove was definitely the top Western, followed very closely by Tombstone. High Noon came in a respectable third, according to my very unofficial and random poll.

So here is the answer to the question I posed:

Top Western?
1. Lonesome Dove
2. Tombstone
3. High Noon

The Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival was fabulous and we will be coming back next year, hopefully with lots of copies of the first book in my new series, The Case of the Deadly Desperados!

P.S. I forgot to put up a picture of a delicious couple of other Tombstone re-enactors, bad boy Nathan and hurdy girl Colleen. Nathan wears dark blue glasses with a tiny mirror in one corner so he can see who's sneaking up behind him! (I didn't mention to Nathan that buffalo soldier Victor Williams told me blue sunglasses were worn by those suffering from V.D.) No prizes for guessing Nathan and Colleen's fave Western... But Lonesome Dove still moseys in at the top place.

(Find out about my Western detective stories for kids at


  1. We (my husband and I and a whole slough of friends)were at the festival yesterday. What a good time. We did make it to Cowboy Church and were blessed thoroughly. We will be joining the pastor at one of his Friday night pot-luck cowboy church events in the summer. All our friends came for the first time and they are now hooked. Too much fun.
    Linda Boyer
    Agoura Hills

  2. Anonymous7:18 PM

    3:10 to Yuma is my favorite western....